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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Chase

The Light Fantastic - a horror comedy

Review by Anthony Chase

mother and daughter talking on a sofa
A touching moment between mother and daughter. Leah Berst and Diane DiBernardo in "The Light Fantastic"

 Yes, I am aware that horror is a very lowbrow genre, but I am a person who in the late 1960s would race home from school to be in front of the television at 4 p.m., to watch the gothic soap opera, Dark Shadows. I was raised on cheesy thrills, gullible protagonists, supernatural plot twists, and the relentless threat of fictional horror.    


For those reasons, The Light Fantastic, a play by Ike Holter, now playing at Road Less Traveled Theatre, evoked pleasures I’d forgotten I enjoy.  It’s the same reason I adore the horror in Conor McPherson and Martin McDonagh’s plays.


My sister and I used to thrill to the unintentional comedy of Dark Shadows, which, with its live-to-tape production format, offered plentiful moments of stagehands leaping out of the frame, flubbed lines, uncooperative props, and the like.  The Light Fantastic, by contrast, is intentionally funny.  It is a gruesomely dark comedy, propelled by the very quick and quirky wit of Mr. Holter. 


In the play, we meet Grace, a truly odious excuse for a human being, played by Leah Berst.  She has summoned the police to investigate a noise in, what the playwright describes as “a big old house that looks old as fuck.” It’s autumn and the time is now, “but feels and looks like 1996, cause it’s rural fucking Indiana.” You get the tone.


A police officer played by Davida Evette Tolbert has responded to the call.  Clearly, there is history between this small town cop and horrible Grace. They knew each other in high school.  The cop also knows “Eddie,” the owner of the house. She thinks Grace is taking advantage of Eddie.  We begin to suspect that Grace is that kind of person. We think that this play going to be about how Grace uses people.


But no.  We’re about to head in a whole new direction, beginning when Grace is left to spend the night alone in this big old house in rural Indiana. Now if that’s not a horror setup, I don’t know what is.


Let’s just say, there is no free lunch.  You don’t get something in this life for nothing. We are about to be treated to a Mephistophelean tale.  Before we leave the theater, somebody will have to bargain with the devil for their very soul. 


Of course, to tell you anything more is to ruin everything.  So, I won’t.  Let me just say that the resolution of this play is every bit as satisfying the conclusion of the greatest Mephistophelean tale ever written … Damn Yankees.  This is not a horror comedy in the style of Mel Brooks. This is more Alfred Hitchcock; both the laughs and the chills are real.


I’d also like to say that like Beetlejuice, this is a play about death.  Grace will need to think about it.  Everybody will have to think about it.  The bargains we make with our lives, of course, are sometimes weighed against how much time we have left, and how good it is in the first place. 

Keep that in mind. There is a fascinating layer of depth in this play, which, on its surface, appears to be pure horror-comedy.  There is absurdity to what we value and what we ignore in our lives. Holter obliges his characters to confront that reality. 

Before praising the full roster of this impressive cast – everyone is believable, and everyone is hilarious – let me praise the set by Collin Ranney, sound by Katie Menke, light by John Rickus, and whoever is operating the fog machine and projections. The show looks and sounds spooky and the ride we take as we are jerked between light and darkness is fabulous. The poltergeist effects are especially winning. 


So the acting…


Leah Berst as Grace. Marvelous. She creates a woman who is, ultimately too smart to be totally evil. 


Davida Evette Tolbert as Harriet, the cop.  Show-stoppingly wonderful – literally, the audience stops the show to applaud one of her best outbursts. Her no-nonsense cop sees through every absurdity, making it all the more funny.


Alejandro Gabriel Gómez gives a fine performance as dear, sweet, loving Eddie.  He is simply too good for that girl!  Holter cleverly weaves that into the plot, and Gómez will guilelessly lure you into taking the bait. I laughed heartily at his most desperate moments. 


Fiona is a fabulous role for Diane DiBernardo and she does not squander the opportunity.  She plays Grace’s mother. The first thing we learn about her is that she is, according to Grace, a bitch. That would make sense, bitch mother of bitch daughter.  Things are seldom what they seem.  DiBernardo has a gift for comedy, and this character was seemingly invented to showcase her formidable talents. 


Ricky Needham plays Adam, a friend of sorts to Fiona.  Needham has never eschewed the outrageous and happily gives it full reign here.


Melinda Capeles plays the enigmatic Katrina. She serves a function, essential in any proper horror yarn, as she enters to deliver the warning that will not be heeded.  Capeles handles the task capably and effectively.


Greg Howze gives a tour de force performance as Peter and as Rufus, making spectacular entrances and exits, and dominating the stage with creepy yet hilarious wonderfulness. I apologize, but I can’t get any more specific without ruining it for you. 


Maura Price’s costumes wittily amplify the characters – and the wig on Diane DiBernardo is terrific.


The production was co-directed by Scott Behrend and John Hurley, with assistant direction by Mike Doben.  This group apparently got along just fine, because the time flies by in this show, played without intermission. Characters are beautifully and believably rendered, and thrills land perfectly.  Enjoy!

The production continues at Road Less Traveled through March 24th.



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