Theater review: ‘The Midnight Area’ by Dark Horse Theatre

ANIMAL INSTINCTS: From left, actors Ryan Travers, Jeremey Carter and Sarah Carpenter encounter a demon sock monkey in the anthology 'The Midnight Area.'
ANIMAL INSTINCTS: From left, actors Ryan Travers, Jeremey Carter and Sarah Carpenter encounter a demon sock monkey in the anthology 'The Midnight Area.' Photo by Rodney Smith/Tempus Fugit

ASHEVILLE, N.C.— Just in time for Halloween, Dark Horse Theatre provides thrills, chills and decidedly weird and creepy theater. The Midnight Area is an evening of episodic tales of twists and terror. The show runs through Saturday, Oct. 28, at The Magnetic Theatre.

Local collective Dark Horse Theatre rears its head every so often to stage its unique shows, crafted from the mind of writer, director and producer McClain (who uses a singular name to go with multiple titles). She has carved out a loyal following of talent and audience with this niche of nightmarish stuff.

The production is comically disturbing at times, and deeply evocative and moving at others. The homage to classic anthology series like “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” “Twilight Zone” and “Tales from the Crypt” is as evident as it is reverential.

Strother Stingley is the well-dressed, all-knowing host, setting up the scenarios before each scene, eliciting great laughs with his frozen, shocked expression that punctuates the end of his introductions. Before the show proper begins, though, local poet and performer Barbie Angell, dressed like a life-size doll, is led through the audience and seated in the back. There’s a chilling payoff to it later.

A tight ensemble of performers drifts in and out of various scenes that give us glimpses into the so-called Sixth Dimension, where the Midnight Area exists in all of its oddball glory. It is similar to our world, but with flourishes. In one scene, a hard-boiled detective (Jeremey Carter) and a femme fatale (Sarah Carpenter) cross paths with a werewolf.

In another, a couple of college coeds looking to hook up think they are using Instagram but instead download Insta-damn and meet a Devil’s minion (a charmingly chipper customer service-minded Julia Cunningham) who informs them of their fate as a result of not reading the terms and conditions.

In another vignette, we visit an insane asylum filled with lunatics, including a menacing clown played with sadistic glee by Darrin Marshall.

In the Insta-damn scene, Ryan Travers and Kelly Shanafelt make a great onstage team but shine even more in a later scene of a blind date gone sideways. It is sweetly disarming before taking a dark turn of fate, which ends up being somewhat endearing and sentimental.

Carter also plays a child with an imaginary friend who embodies his right hand and is stalked by a sock monkey seemingly come to life in the penultimate scene. The sock monkey imagery is a strong part of the show’s marketing and pays off in a funny, yet nerve-fraying, scene.

The vignettes are a tapestry of varied ideas that somehow mesh together to create a full show (it runs just under 70 minutes without intermission). These near-perfect, mini-morsels of bizarre bites are meant to make us laugh and feel uncomfortable all at once.

WHAT: The Midnight Area
WHERE: The Magnetic Theatre, 375 Depot St., themagnetictheatre.org
WHEN: Friday and Saturday, Oct. 27 and 28, at 7:30 p.m. $12

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About Jeff Messer
playwright, actor, director and producer, Jeff Messer has been most recently known as a popular radio talk show host. He has been a part of the WNC theatre scene for over 25 years, and actively works with and supports most of the theatres throughout the region. Follow me @jeffdouglasmess

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