I wasn’t around in 1962—the year in which the Loring Theater’s current “Haunted Theater” presentation is set—but I remember the Cold War. At some point in the mid-1980s, after I saw something about it on TV, my mom sat me down and explained that the United States and the Soviet Union had enough nuclear weaponry to destroy life as we know it. That was heavy.
The Loring Theater presentation is based on an inspired idea: instead of creeping people out with supernatural horrors, why not remind them of the very real horrors that might actually befall us? (The Soviet Union is no more, but there are plenty of nuclear missiles still rattling around out there, and plenty of people who’d like to fling them at us if given the chance.) The premise is that the audience is attending a screening of The Blob when air-raid sirens sound and everyone needs to take cover.
The show is ambitious, from the retro jukebox party in the lobby to the gauntlets run in the theater’s basement to the makeshift triage ward erected onstage, but somehow I left feeling underwhelmed. There’s some enormously impressive talent involved with this show—the cast includes Joanna Harmon, Noah Bremer, and Jane Froiland, all of whom were onstage accepting awards at the Iveys this year—and while I didn’t expect a play exactly, I wonder whether a more straightforward theatrical approach wouldn’t have helped the show to make more of what it has to offer.
The obvious comparison point is the Soap Factory’s Haunted Basement, which I’ve visited only once, in 2009—I don’t really like to be scared. Costing $18 for advance tickets and $20 at the door, the Haunted Theater is a few bucks less expensive than the Haunted Basement (which is completely sold out at this point, perhaps making the comparison moot), and in a sense you get more for your money—the Haunted Theater show runs about a half-hour, roughly three times as long as the Haunted Basement—but the Haunted Theater is not as scary, and the producers can’t offer anything like the incredibly elaborate sets built at the Soap Factory over the course of many months.
Overall, this year’s Haunted Theater is an entertaingly creepy spectacle—but I think most of the predominantly 20-something audience I saw it with late Tuesday night was looking for something a little more intense. For Baby Boomers, on the other hand, it might be an eerie reminder of the days when Khrushchev was threatening to bury us all.