Ever get really scared at the theater? Not of ticket prices or parking in an iffy neighborhood, but get that creeping sense of menace that you’re living a horror story? That’s the kind of mood and jolts that you get with the one-two punch of “The Shadowy Third” and “The Doll,” two delightfully chilling one-acts staged by Unbound Productions (the same people who bring you Wicked Lit every year).
It’s a two-stage show, quite literally: It begins with a moody staged reading of Ellen Glasgow’s “The Shadowy Third,” with strong, authoritative performances from all the players (and very nice work from Chairman Barnes as Doctor Maradick). The story revolves around an idealistic young nurse who has come to an isolated manor house/sanitarium to evaluate the sanity of the director’s wife, but grows to question exactly who should be under psychiatric care — and who is really alive or dead. The sense of creeping menace is very nice, and again, all the cast do fine jobs in a nice, compact bit of reader’s theater.
Then comes “The Doll,” adapted from a story by Algernon Blackwood. After a brief intermission, the audience is ushered forcefully into a beautiful old mansion (said ushering being done by the marvelously funny Tanya Mironowski as Hilda, the maid) where they witness the bizarre goings-on as a strange doll is delivered. It’s meant for the Colonel (Andrew Thacher, nicely blending strength and sensitivity), but ends up in the hands of his neglected daughter Monica (the very natural Asia Aragon). Fear takes over the household as governess Jane Joska (Amelia Meyers, perfect in her role) and cook Mrs. O’Reilly (Jennifer Novak Chun, absolutely pitch-perfect as well) find strange bloodstains and hear unholy voices in the night. The weird doll seems to be using Monica to get at the Colonel — but for what purpose?
Both short plays are directed with real skill, talent and love (by Douglas Clayton in the case of “The Shadowy Third,” and by Paul Millet in the case of “The Doll”), and they have a sense of synergy: The growing horror of “The Shadowy Third” sets up the creeping menace of “The Doll” for an encounter in the dark that genuinely unnerves you, and then pays off with a climactic scene that made everyone jump and a couple of audience members scream out loud! This is horror storytelling done just right, working on your fears even if it’s with only a soupcon of blood.
Christine Cover Ferro’s costumes are nearly entirely flawless, and Noelle Hoffman’s sound design — oddly, particularly the crackling of the fireplaces — help generate a sense of real authenticity that puts you into the story. And being in the story is exactly what you want from a horror theater experience — it’s the fastest way to getting those wonderful gooseflesh sensations and heart-in-your-mouth jumps.
Note: It can be a little cooler outside in the evening, even in the summer, so you might want to bring a sweater or other layering. And you will climb up and down stairs a few times during “The Doll,” but it’s all completely worth it.
There’s still one more weekend left to see “The Shadowy Third” and “The Doll” at Pasadena’s historic Strub Mansion, and you can get all the details at unboundproductions.org. Oh, and a word of advice? If you can go for the last showing of the evening, please do. The darkened skies make it all the better…