January 23, 2004





Desperation undercuts 'Haunt'


Sometimes, because theater is a live medium in which we're sharing the very air with the performers, a play can get under our skin--and make it crawl--in ways not even the creepiest B movie can hope to achieve.


Take Justina Walford's "Haunt," if you dare. This aimless series of blackout scenes depicts hapless twentysomethings wallowing in drug-addled anomie in a Hollywood apartment complex; it is performed by young hopefuls at the Complex in Hollywood.


The drama here, such as it is, emerges not from the faltering play itself but from the soul-sucking experience of spending nearly two hours so close to genuine desperation and unwitting embarrassment.


We can feel deep, palpable confusion in every moment of lead actress Andrea Edmondson's performance as Risa, a young woman fleeing some kind of family crisis only to land in an apartment haunted by Jen (Thesy Surface), a gaunt heroin addict who recently died there. But Edmondson is a model of clarity next to her supporting players: the aptly named Surface, who makes a particularly un-supernatural ghost; the charming but unschooled Wai Ying-Tsang as a substance-peddling neighbor and the earnest, plodding Ethan Ubell as a dull would-be boyfriend.


These actors, if not their characters, are often at such cross-purposes onstage it's almost fascinating to watch. Perhaps director David Lee (not the one from "Frasier") mistook this strange muddle for a bold theatrical choice; instead, after our mild fascination wears off, it's just depressing. The misbegotten "Haunt" is indeed haunting, but for all the wrong reasons.

--Rob Kendt


"Haunt," Split.Id Theater @ the Complex, 6470 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m. Ends Feb. 21. $10. (323) 462-2662. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.