Halloween time is the perfect time for scary movies, but what about scary plays? Horror film fanatics should not discount the immediate experience of seeing a live performance when they're in the mood to jump in their seats.
House Party Theatre is attempting to make you do just that with its new play, Shadow Woman, by Dallas playwright Claire Carson. HPT produced her play Hypochondria in 2016.
Shadow Woman is a supernatural thriller that draws on the campiness of horror films from the last few decades to tell a story about the everyday fears that come along with womanhood.
“I wanted to bring that feeling you get watching a horror movie to the stage — the spectacle and shock, the visceral feeling you get, but also the campiness," says Carson, a horror film freak.
Stephen King, Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist were inspirations to Carson. After the presidential election, she decided her play's plot would focus on what it's like to be a woman. Carson says she’s often scared.
“The feeling of being a woman in the world — that is horror in and of itself,” she says. “The effect of the patriarchy on biological men scares me just because they are stronger. And the notion of female hysteria exists, where we lack credibility just for being a woman, or we feel we are being gaslighted.”
Carson didn’t want to write the female protagonist, a teenage girl named Arrah Andrews (Bella O'Brien), as a “wet dishrag” character. Carson says she thought of Shelley Duvall’s character in The Shining and wanted the opposite. Shadow Woman's plot jumps to different points in time, and Carson says she was interested in exploring the way things have changed for women throughout history.
Shadow Woman follows Arrah, who lives alone with her dad, as she copes with the death of her mother. They’ve moved to a new house to start over, but the house is haunted by the ghost of a woman and the abusive husband who killed her.
Director Jenna Hannum says she likes how Arrah's experiences in the play often feel tangible, like waking up with injuries from the spirit haunting her.
“She has actual proof of things that are happening to her, and she still tries to find ways to explain it as if it didn’t really happen," Hannum says. "That same idea — you’re afraid of being labeled as someone hysterical and crazy. It’s very clear something is happening, and she still doesn’t want to share that with anyone.”
Arrah and her best friend, Rachel, embody the “romance” of the play, Carson says. Together, they discover the murdered woman’s journal, and as more is revealed about her tragic life, the audience begins to see something terrifying onstage that the characters do not.
It has the elements of a coming-of-age story and a horror film, including a "killer soundtrack," Carson says. She hopes the play also has something meaningful to say about grief.
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“I think I like being afraid,” Carson says. “I like believing in ghosts, thinking that there’s something I can’t see or know about.”
Carson says a line has stuck with her from a documentary about the making of the The Exorcist: You get out of a movie what you bring to it.
“If you believe the world is terrible and gloomy, you’re going to leave the movie feeling that same way, but if you go into it and witness all this terrible stuff but see that hope and goodness triumphed even though things were bad, that’s part of the attraction to me," Carson says. "Terrible things can happen, but there’s still ... joy and beauty and laughter. Coming out on the other side is the cool thing to me about that.”
Shadow Woman, Oct. 14-28, Bath House Cultural Center, 521 E. Lawther Drive, $15, ticketleap.com.