Theater review: Thriller double feature at Hendersonville Community Theater

FEAR FACTOR: Hendersonville Community Theatre offers a double-feature Halloween treat in the plays 'The Love Talker' and 'A Ghost Story.' Photos courtesy of the theater company

In the spirit of the Halloween season, Hendersonville Community Theatre is serving up two slices of horror that are meant to leave viewers on the edge of their seats. The weirdly surreal The Love Talker and the creepily comical A Ghost Story continue through Sunday, Nov. 4, in HCT’s intimate second stage venue.

In Deborah Pryor’s The Love Talker, directed by Jim Walker, we meet a mother and daughter living in a cabin near an enchanted forest. The women of this family have been tempted by something in that forest, and the young daughter is starting to fall under the generations-old spell. The mother, recognizing the signs of seduction, fights to end the long line of this curse.

In spite of strong performances from the four actors, the pacing and the script itself make the show a challenge. It seems to be set in a Puritanical era, but there are terms used (like a reference to “Miss America”) that are in contrast to the visual aesthetic of the production. The writing ends up coming off as pretentious. The Pagan mythology aspects are presented as if the audience should know and understand them without explanation, which only serves to confuse.

Jan Robbins and Claire Estes, as the mother and daughter, do have great chemistry and interactions with the mythical creatures who are intriguingly played by Jayna Gerber and Christopher Hewitt. The play is interesting to watch at times but overstays its welcome.

The much more satisfying script is A Ghost Story, written by John Pielmeier (known for the play Agnes of God) and directed by Zachary Eden. Two men hitchhiking in a blizzard in West Virginia find a cabin with a lit fire but no inhabitant. A mysterious woman wearing a fur coat arrives, as well, and an exchange of ghost stories elicits both laughs and chills. Something is not as it seems, and there is a sense of impending doom hanging over the trio.

Eden’s direction is sharp and understated, letting the audience drop its defenses and laugh at Gary McClain’s quirky Oswald as he regales Hackett (played by Eden, who stepped in to replace another actor in the role) with tales of his dysfunctional family. McClain performs the charming lout with inviting ease. Estes also appears in this show, turning up as Soma, the mysterious woman. By the time she removes her fur coat to give us a glimpse of what is underneath, the audience is equally seduced and somewhat repulsed by her. It’s a fine line Estes walks with wry precision.

Overall, the evening is a mixed bag but worth the experience for those in search of something odd and creepy this season. Both shows are decidedly darker and edgier than one would expect from HCT, and the theater company deserves credit for going out on a limb.

WHAT: A Love Talker and A Ghost Story
WHERE: Hendersonville Community Theatre, 229 S. Washington St., Hendersonville, hendersonvilletheatre.org
WHEN: Through Sunday, Nov. 4, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. $16

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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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