Draped with fishnet and spider webs and dressed with ouija boards, skulls, a crystal ball, a chainsaw, a coffin, a skeleton, a lamp made of a human head, a noose, an old radio, and a sarcophagus, the stage of the New Vic Theatre in Kalamazoo embodies the spookiness of the Halloween season and is set to creep folks out in the most festive of ways.
This is the setting for Ghost Stories, the New Vic’s latest offering, in which six actors in high storytelling mode do their best to summon the spirits and make the joint feel haunted.
Kim Dunham opens the show as Rowan, the gypsy witch narrator dressed in heavy jewelry, a head scarf, and a robe covered in Celtic knots. She officially opens the “All Hallow’s Eve Seance” by reminding everyone that now is the time in which the veil between the living and the dead is thin and that which is unexplainable abounds. “May they haunt this house pleasantly,” she chants.
The stories and monologues to follow vary from bone-chilling to humorous to literary to groan-worthy, nearly all of them rooted in truth — either recognizable locations, people, events, or local legend — the best among them succeeding in raising the hairs on the back of your neck.
Director James Furney asked the actors to come up with the stories themselves. They wrote every part of the show except an excerpt from a story by Ambrose Bierce, the Civil War era writer influenced by Edgar Allan Poe and known for his horror stories, which the actors read aloud.
The original stories range from a gripping story of a mother’s suicide to urban legends featuring a truck driver, a hotel room, a haunted bridge, a bad smell, the melon heads of Saugatuck Dunes, the Traverse City State Hospital, and the New Vic’s own dark history, featuring a long-deceased ventriloquist’s dummy named Dr. Munson.
Lighting and other effects by James Furney and executed by Deb Koppers are understated yet effective, and this 90-minute, two-act show is at its best when it simply feels like genuine storytelling.
Anna Mundo is the most successful dramatic storyteller here — her timing is on point, her stories about the strange occurrences in the house in Portage where her stepfather died and losing a brother in Saugatuck Dunes State Park are utterly convincing. The audience is rapt and moved by her performance that doesn’t feel like a performance at all.
Kim Dunham has fun with the witch role, though sometimes her flair for melodrama upstages the storytelling itself. Meanwhile, Pat Dunham and Shawn Newton each have their moments of holding the audience in the palms of their hands, as does Jocelyn Furney. At times, when the actors read from scripts, their cadence slips into an unnatural rhythm and they lose connection with the audience; however, that is a minimal part of the show.
But who doesn’t love a good ghost story well told — especially this time of year? The New Vic Theatre offers exactly that, much of the time, in this original Halloween show.
New Vic Theatre
134 E. Vine St., Kalamazoo
Oct. 6-28, $25