3 Parts Dead
The Burning House Group; at Minneapolis Theater Garage through October 28
Telling a good ghost story is a tricky task. The tale's internal logic has to be taut for the spooky bits to bite, and the characters have to be drawn in such as way that we sympathize with their supernatural travails. Local playwright Alan M. Berks's new 3 Parts Dead delivers on both scores, and this staging ratchets up the heebie-jeebies with chilling invention. The action concerns Peter (Matt Guidry), an ex-junkie who has just bought a house with his daughter in tow (he's coming down from his wild years and generally avoiding the mother of his child). Pete writes letters home to his brother Jonathan (David Allen Baker), who reads them on the far side of the stage while Peter proceeds to gradually go nuts. The lighting design (credited to Guidry and the company) favors plenty of darkness and shadow, with flashlight beams cutting through the murk while the characters move about ominously. Peter's hold on his sanity is hardly reinforced with the arrival of Mason (Randal Berger), who moves with agonized contortions and introduces himself by menacingly wielding a screwdriver. It turns out that Jonathan was always the stable nebbish of the family, while Peter was the charismatic love-magnet with a sideline in otherworldly visions. As with most families, these two remain true to type, and eventually Jonathan feels the need to intercede. Along the way Guidry and Berger transform boards and cardboard cartons into a creepy approximation of a rundown house, and a dawning sense of dread accompanies the realization that daughter Amalia never seems to be around. To reveal more would be to spoil any number of surprises, but suffice it to say that Berks's elliptical dramatic structure and jigsaw character development draw the audience in with an appealing sense of dread. Noah Bremer directs, and the ensemble at times literally throws itself into the work, employing a lot of movement and eerie physical effects (one of which I could barely believe I was seeing). While the road to the ending is at times confusing, matters come together with an appropriately unsettling series of events, confirming that the best ghost stories are about the shadows that occupy the forbidden corners of our own minds.