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Theatre Review: New Broadway Horror Play “GREY HOUSE” Redefines Stage Fright

Friday, June 2, 2023 | Reviews, Stage Fright


Starring Laurie Metcalf, Tatiana Maslany and Paul Sparks
Directed by Joe Mantello
Written by Levi Holloway
Produced by Kirdahy and Robert Ahrens 

The beautiful, inherently spooky walls of Broadway’s iconic Lyceum Theatre have long been home to some of the most impactful moments in theatrical history. Yet, no production to grace its stage has ever accomplished such an unusual and frightening experience as its most recent inhabitant, the new horror play GREY HOUSE. Written by Levi Holloway and directed by two-time Tony winner Joe Mantello (Broadway’s The Humans and Wicked), the show is a frightening exploration of the fears we take with us and the fears we leave behind.

The premise is deceptively familiar. In 1977, a couple crashes their car in a blizzard and seeks shelter within the walls of a nearby cabin, where the unsettling inhabitants harbor horrifying secrets.

The play is best viewed with as little information about its story as possible. It purposely gets many familiar “cabin-in-the-woods” tropes out of the way early on, cleverly stripping audiences of their preconceived notions. Without such clichés to cling to, there’s nowhere left to go – except the unexpected. Mere moments after entering The House, one of our heroes declares, “I’ve seen this movie.” No, sir, you haven’t.

There is no denying that GREY HOUSE succeeds entirely due to its remarkably talented cast and creative team. Based on the playwright’s nightmares and inspired by the tragic loss of his twin, the story feels personal – almost voyeuristic. Holloway smartly refuses to spell anything out in his storytelling, insisting that the audience put the pieces together as the story delicately reveals itself. Here, the devil is quite literally in the details, and there are details stitched into every line of the text.

The cast does a superb job of deciphering those details and conveying them with heart-wrenching conviction. As Raleigh, the “matriarch” of The House’s denizens, Emmy and Tony winner Laurie Metcalf (Roseanne, Scream 2, Broadway’s Misery) maximizes her gift for finding moments of humor in the deeply serious subject matter. Her ability to evoke laughter and break hearts in the same beat is mind-blowing.

Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law) as Max, successfully balances the challenging task of playing the “straight man” in the madness –  Alice to The House’s haunting Wonderland. As Max’s husband, Henry, Paul Sparks (Castle Rock, House of Cards) carries his character through a bizarre arc with precision and careful thought. As a pair, the two seem to convey entire conversations with one another through mere glances from across the stage.

Also notable is the cast of children and young actors, all of whom mirror the maturity of the play while maintaining their childlike innocence … until they don’t. The eldest, Marlowe, played by Sophia Anne Caruso, (School for Good and Evil, Broadway’s Beetlejuice, the Musical), exhibits a wisdom beyond her years. Millicent Simmonds (A Quiet Place, A Quiet Place 2) shines in a moment of tenderness involving a potato, a vegetable peeler and Laurie Metcalf in tears.

The set by three-time Tony winner Scott Pask (Broadway’s The Pillowman, The Book of Mormon, The Coast of Utopia) brings The House to life, giving it a breath of agency as a character unto itself. The detail is astounding; The House feels intensely lived-in yet never welcoming. There’s a sort of malicious coziness within its meticulously cluttered walls. Lighting by Natasha Katz and sound design by Tom Gibbons work hand in hand in bringing The House to life, utilizing dead space in shadow and silence to masterful effect.

An unexpected element is the play’s use of music, movement, and sign language. Director of Artistic Sign Language Andrew Morrill incorporates 1970s period-appropriate signs, which movement director Ellenore Scott beautifully blends into ritualistic movement set to music and vocalizations overseen by Or Matias. Even in a blizzard, I’d imagine these characters fiendishly dancing around a blazing fire beneath a haunted full moon.

If there’s any room for criticism, it stems from a fascinating early-in-rehearsals deep discussion with the cast and creatives, moderated by Jonathan Groff (viewable on the show’s YouTube channel), in which director Joe Mantello announces his distaste for horror and his aversion to categorizing the piece as such, instead preferring the phrase “psychological thriller.” The statement is immediately followed by a list of some of his favorite “psychological thrillers,” including Rosemary’s Baby, The Shining and Get Out – all titles commonly agreed upon, definitive and universally celebrated horror classics. There are instances when genre can be subjective; Ask anyone on either side of the ongoing “Silence of the Lambs” horror/psychological thriller debate. The truth is they can (and do) share the space – as does GREY HOUSE. To discredit the horror elements of the play does a disservice to what horror is capable of – elevating the human experience and showcasing it in subversive metaphor. (As a mere spectator and basing this solely on observation, it would appear the vast majority of cast and creative have no apprehension in using the word “horror” in describing the play.) Regardless, where Mantello triumphantly succeeds is in understanding and showcasing that the very human themes that drive the classic horror films he lists are universally shared and universally scary.

Ultimately, as I’m sure horror fans are curious to know, is GREY HOUSE actually scary? The answer is a resounding “yes” … for the right theatergoer. If you’re looking for a Vorheesian hack-fest (and there’s nothing wrong with that), you may want to adjust your expectations more toward the vein of a serious terrifying A24 deep-thinker. Without comparing the prose of prolific storytellers, Holloway’s tale of inescapable grief and seeking where to place it fits as a suitable companion to any Ari Aster-esque masterpiece. If Hereditary got your ghost, you’ll feel right at home in GREY HOUSE.

GREY HOUSE is now playing at New York’s Lyceum Theatre. Click here to purchase tickets.

Ricky J. Duarte
Ricky is a writer, actor, singer, and the host of the "Rick or Treat Horrorcast" podcast. He lives in a super haunted apartment above a cemetery in New York City with his evil cat, Renfield, and the ghosts of reasons he moved to NYC in the first place., @RickOrTreatPod