By Michael Landes, Contributing Writer
Halloween is no longer the spooky holiday it once was (if it ever was that). Mostly, it means that college students get permission to dress up and go out in costumes in late October. But for those who were seeking frights on Halloween, the new play “Remains” at Theater Lab was just the show to see. Mounted by the pun-loving Traumaturgy Productions, the show took its cues from horror films rather than plays. It also uses theatrical devices like practical effects, sound and lights to great effect.
The play is set in the classically terrifying American frontier — an illegal campground for three twenty-somethings, who must keep their presence hidden from the townspeople. Their reason for camping there quickly becomes clear: the legendary murder of Sarah, a sensational crime followed by an equally sensational trial, drew tourists to the area every year.
The script, never eager to give away any exposition, nor too restrained to make clear the action, keeps away from details. All that the audience is given is the eerie story of the teeth of the dead girl, found in a car. The audience’s minds, literally locked inside the room with these frustrated and confused people, are forced to fill in the blanks.
The play doesn’t rush into gory violence, but when it comes, it holds no bars. This caution is to its credit. For cult audiences of classic horror films who love practical effects, a play like “Remains” can provide the tangible thrill that CGI-laden movies and TV shows can’t anymore.
As with any theater production, what you see is right there in front of you, and for a horror play in a small third-floor studio, this puts the audience within squirting range of some beautiful fake blood. Of course, such effects always hover on the edge of comedy, but the lighting, sound, and very capable acting means that the play hangs together, despite the giggles of some uncomfortable audience members. The show embraces the camp history of horror, but stays true to its goal of delivering Halloween frights, and certainly succeeds.
“Remains” played at Theater Lab at 357 W 36th St. through Oct. 31.