A couple finds themselves in a creepy cabin in the woods in Grey House | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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A couple finds themselves in a creepy cabin in the woods in Grey House

Levi Holloway's horror show for A Red Orchid Theatre gives a feminist makeover to a familiar genre.

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Onstage or -screen, the tropes of horror (teens in peril, demonic children, stormy nights, rusty saws, etc) have been exhausted for generations. What was once revolutionary is now mostly just revolting torture porn.

Enter Levi Holloway, whose Grey House shines like a beacon of hope for the genre, or if you will, like the eyes of 666 righteous girl children with flames in their pupils. TL/DR: Grey House is fucking terrifying. It is also feminist as fuck. The tropes are all there, but deployed in ways that are deliciously shocking and, ultimately, meaningful.

Directed by Shade Murray, Grey House begins with a mountain car crash. Max (Sadieh Rifai) and Henry (Travis A. Knight) seek refuge in a cabin in the woods. They are obviously in love. Holloway is obviously aware of the familiarity of their plight. As the couple looks around the desolate cabin, they joke that they've "seen this movie." Haha. You think you know what is coming? Guess again, horror snobs. You. Have. No. Idea.

That's pretty much all one can say of the plot without wrecking it. Except maybe keep an eye on the window when Max and Henry first mention the deer they hit. It's one of many moments that are little more than flickers, so subtle you might not be sure if it's your imagination or reality at work. Things slither in cupboards, gleam from frosted glass, and scratch between walls. Sometimes, you'll blink and something you've clearly seen—a carton of eggs, a white nightgown—is suddenly not what you've seen. It's a glorious mindfuck. Yet this exquisite creepiness isn't deployed simply for the sake of being creepy. Every moment plays into Holloway's plot, which ends with a reveal that ties everything together with a big red bow. Made of veins and intestines.

Which brings us to the hellishly fine cast. The cabin is home to Raleigh (the magnificent Kirsten Fitzgerald) and her children, Marlow (Sara Cartwright), A1656 (Haley Bolithon), Bernie (Kayla Casiano), Squirrel (Autumn Hlava), the Boy (Charlie Herman), and the Ancient (Dado). The last two don't speak vocally. Bernie uses sign language, as does much of the cast. It is built into the voiced dialogue with a fluidity that adds layers of beauty and expressiveness to an already multitiered story. Also, it's not a plot gimmick, a la Hush. Instead, it is simply as natural as breath. And death.

The family has plans for Henry and Max, plans that arrow back through centuries of atrocities perpetrated on women and girls before veering back to the play's late-1970s setting. Would that it were a period piece. That it isn't makes the plot all the scarier and the outcome all the more deviously satisfying.  v

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