Built in 1907, the Players Theatre offers perfect atmosphere for a play titled Ectoplasm. A few 19th century lamps and a gramophone highlight its modest, but evocative set (Florence Scagliarini). The production chooses to keep restless audience waiting through a contemporary song. Like Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette and Baz Luhrman’s Moulin Rouge, the gimmick of (here intermittent) modern music in a scenario set much earlier jerks us away from both era and plot.
Enter Medium Sara Marshall (Jillian Cicalese) and her good right arm Kaye Schultz (Caitlin Dullahan-Bates). The latter suffers unrequited love for her collaborator. Having had an abusive marriage, Sara has sworn off romantic (and sexual) relationships. Because of this and distress with subterfuge Sara justifies as “aiding” her powers, Kaye has declared this her last show. Both actresses have presence and focus.
Caitlin Dullahan-Bates and Jillian Cicalese
We’re in the parlor of “Madame”= ex-prostitute Madame Francine Montfort (Florence Scagliarini chewing scenery). Plush trappings haven’t changed the behavior of a floozy. Madame is sleeping with her obtuse, boy toy butler Callum Holes (Drew Reilly, who seems to be trying out personas best left to pre-performance), may have something going with the wife of one of her guests (we see signs), and has aggressive hots for Sara. It’s unclear whether Sara and Kaye are living/boarding with her.
Attending tonight’s séance are two couples: Scientist George Crookes (Nicholas Thomas – without defining distinction) and his wife Miska (Raina Silver – solid performance). Miska is fascinated by blood rituals and convinces Sara to drink from a vial in order to better commune with spirits. (The act is then lost in editing without effect or reference.) Both are believers. And magician/medium debunker Ira Orinthall (a credible, naturalistic Adam Belvo) with his wife Annette (Sophia Radix), a cipher who might just as well be omitted.
Late arrival Elisha Kane (Frederico Mostert) seems to have wandered in from the street- but hasn’t. Everyone assumes someone else knows him. The one person who recognizes the interloper chooses not to share an unusual aspect of Kane’s presence. This makes no sense.
Adam Belvo, Florence Scagliarini, Jillian Cicalese, Kelsey Bentz, Sophia Radix, Drew Reilly, Caitlin Dullagan-Bates
Sara connects through her dead grandfather whose skull sits in the middle of the table flapping its jaw to indicate participation. There are additionally two private sessions (a standing screen is employed), an amusing one with Miska and an unnerving one for Ira. Both evince good writing and acting. Couples dance. Enough is imbibed to drown a room of sizeable cats, but no one exhibits signs of drunkenness except Madame who came in that way.
I have no idea what playwright Sara Fellini means to say. Circumstances intrigue but seem
to bear no message. The script has too many loose ends and except for a nod to Harry Houdini on whom Orinthall is clearly based and some unused faux ectoplasm, it lacks her usual research. Considering the richness of the period vis a vis spiritualism, this is surprising. Writing varies in quality, but would serve better with a more consistently able cast.
As a director, Fellini both paces the production and moves her players well, but should’ve conferred with the author in regard to better manifesting characters, some of whom seem colorless. She also might tamp down a few who cut their own paths in order to be noticed.
Excepting a white rag worn by Kane, Claire Daley’s costumes and props, even on a budget, are just right.
Photos by Caitlin Ochs
Ectoplasm – presented by spit&vigor as part of The Players Theatre Artistic Residency
Written and Directed by Sara Fellini
The Players Theatre
115 MacDougal Street Between West 3rd & Bleecker
Through February 6, 2022