It’s not easy going green. Just ask the Weatherbee-Savoie family — victims of a fourth-dimensional hellscape.
Running as the NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival’s Mainstage production, Dylan Sealy’s The Dangers of Geothermal Heating is a lot like morning breakfast. The comedic elements are crisp like bacon, and the references to classic horror movies run deep like a refreshing glass of orange juice. And the family drama? It’s running all over the place like the yolk from three soft eggs.
Directed by Lisa Anne Ross, The Dangers of Geothermal Heating finds parents Tim (Len Falkenstein) and Tara (Anna Chatterton) trying to casually pass the time in their newly haunted home. Their daughter Annabelle (Kira Chisholm) has had enough of the twisting labyrinth outside of their living room. Not only is there a minotaur roaming the hallways, but the bathroom is constantly moving around. Oh — there’s also hands trying to drag Annabelle into hell.
Who knew trying to install geothermal heating could have such horrific consequences?
Well, if you ask Tim, the geothermal heating isn’t necessarily to blame. The family must have disturbed an ancient Indian burial ground. That’s if Tim remembers Poltergeist correctly. It’s been awhile.
Whatever the reason, Tara just wants her house back. That’s why the family has hired Doctor Richard Dee (Jake Martin) to help them return the house back to normal.
Let’s talk about Ross’ absolutely marvelous direction.
Ross plunges the Fredericton Playhouse’s backstage studio space into total metaphysical weirdness. As established, everything outside of the living room is chaos. To show this, Ross has devised simple, yet effective choreography for the actors whenever they walk outside of the living room and into the infinite abyss. The actors walk in a very slow and deliberate manner that demonstrates a kind of space-time distortion in the labyrinth. As well, there are two doors that neatly slide around in the void, showing us how the house continues to twist and shift around — no wonder Annabelle can’t find the bathroom!
The physicality of Ross’ direction, which shouldn’t surprise anyone given her background in physical theatre, also brings out wonderful comedic moments, some of which are staged behind the scrim. The director delightfully expands on the already campy tones of Sealy’s script.
Speaking of which, The Dangers of Geothermal Heating is very funny. Fans of horror movies will appreciate the way Sealy plays with tropes of the genre. But of course, what’s the paranormal without the human element? The Weatherbee-Savoie family could seriously benefit from family counseling. Not because dad poisons their food sometimes, but because the family struggles to talk about their feelings honestly. And that’s what makes Sealy’s play a lot of fun, because you can almost imagine a ghost turning and saying to his partner “uh, let’s not get involved right now.”
Chisholm brings great comedic timing and a lot of attitude to the character of Annabelle, an eye-rolling teenager who just wants her mom to open up. Chisholm’s eyes are like daggers whenever Falkenstein’s Tim starts to say something super problematic. Chatterton is a force to be reckoned with as Tara, the family’s breadwinner. Falkenstein plays Tim with bumbling TV dad confidence, and it’s hilarious. It is a joy to watch Falkenstein and Chatterton’s characters argue in the midst of everything going to hell.
Martin’s Doctor Richard Dee, a paranormal expert with multiple PhDs, is wildly amusing to watch as his eccentric energy frustrates everyone and deflates all hope for normalcy.
Set designer Mike Johnston drops us into a nice and orderly living room that has an almost vintage feel to it — for one, there’s vinyl record coasters. It’s as if Tara beat everyone to the best deals at Value Village. The living room is situated on a raised platform, directly above and stage left are windows suspended in the air. The living room is warmly lit by Chris Saad who also hits us with all sorts of red for the play’s freakier moments. Johnston also provides the sound design, delivering loud demonic voices that are often a little hard to make out clearly. Costume Designer Laura-Beth Bird dresses Chatterton in ‘good work ethic’ plaid, with Falkenstein in more relaxed, goofy dad — e.g. short-sleeved dress shirt — clothing. Martin could not be better dressed as a mix between the Jerry Lewis’ Nutty Professor and the 11th Doctor.
Sure, the playwright drags out his defiance of audience expectations, but The Dangers of Geothermal Heating should not be missed. It’s hilariously ghoulish.
Dylan Sealy’s The Dangers of Geothermal Heating runs July 26 – 28 at the Fredericton Playhouse (Backstage studio space), as part of the 2018 NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival. The NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival runs July 26 – August 4.
For more information about the NotaBle Acts Theatre Festival, visit: https://nbacts.com/