Playwright Danny Robins admitted that he finds paranormal goings-on fascinating – and that they inspired 2:22 – A GHOST STORY: “I’ve been fascinated by ghosts since I was a child… Believers cite (ghost sightings) as a body of evidence, whilst skeptics see it as the contagion of belief. What I think it proves, more than anything, is how much humans need ghosts; how deeply rooted and hard to shift they are in our psyche…there’s a reason that, despite all our advances in science, we haven’t ever consigned ghosts to the scrapheap of redundant superstition along with elves and unicorns…perhaps the question is not ‘Do ghosts exist?’ but ‘Can we exist without ghosts?’” The Ahmanson’s current U. S. premiere offering, 2:22 – A GHOST STORY certainly sets up the controversy for today’s audiences.
Jenny (Constance Wu) and Sam (Finn Wittrock) have gone the way of many of their contemporaries. They bought and remodeled an older home in a run-down area of Boston which was rapidly becoming gentrified. Despite promises to the prior owner, the couple made significant changes which made the house almost unrecognizable in order to modernize it and make it their very own. Now they have an infant daughter who will be raised in this, their special place. But something odd is going on. While Sam, a physics professor, is out of town, Jenny has been hearing and experiencing strange things – especially around the same time every night – 2:22. When she tells her husband that she believes the house is haunted, Sam scoffs at the very thought – for he is a scientist who respects proof, not fantasy.
As the unnerving tale opens, Jenny and Sam are hosting their first dinner guests, their old friend Lauren (Anna Camp) and her partner/roommate Ben (Adam Rothenberg), a salt-of-the-earth Bostonian who was born and raised within blocks of their new home. Soon the question of paranormal possibilities becomes the central point in their discussions – with the group soon evolving into three believers and one non-believer. Where will this conflict go?
Skillfully directed by Matthew Dunster, 2:22 – A GHOST STORY slowly builds tension as the two couples try to sort out this paranormal puzzle. The talented cast work to keep the audience off-balance as the story builds. Is the presentation scary? Rather call it intriguing and sometimes fascinating. The focus of the play is on plot, with characters drawn somewhat superficially – chess pieces to keep the questions coming. It is rare that ghostly stories hit the stage – even though audiences find them interesting and entertaining. On top of that, the house quickly assumes a personality of its own – one that is somewhat cold and foreboding, thanks to Anna Fleischle’s set design. Kudos to the production team, especially Lucy Carter’s lighting and Ian Dickinson’s sound – which punctuate key parts of the story while a prominently displayed digital clock counts down the hours. American audiences should remember that the same show is currently running in London’s West End until the beginning of January 2023, with the Guardian hailing it as “a slick, chilling romp of a play.”
Now the key question for a ghost story: Does it raise goosebumps in the audience? I didn’t find it heart-stopping, but rather a somewhat intellectual journey reminiscent of “The Turn of the Screw.” Is it entertaining? Yes, certainly – especially if the audience loves to be challenged with questions about the paranormal and all the arguments for and against that come up during the debate. For an enjoyable and even fascinating evening, 2:22 – A GHOST STORY is recommended – especially if you’re one of those folks who has had unexplained ghostly experiences yourself.
2:22 – A GHOST STORY runs through December 4, 2022, with performances at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays through Fridays, at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays, and at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Sundays (no 2 p.m. performance on 10/29; no 1 p.m. performance on 10/30). The Ahmanson Theatre is located at the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Tickets range from $40 to $175. For information and reservations, call 213-972-4400 or go online.