Review: ‘Lucid Nightmares’ aim to keep viewers up at night

The set of "Lucid Nightmares" made it very clear the play would attempt to invoke fear in its viewers. Photo by Stephanie Butzer.

The set of “Lucid Nightmares” made it very clear the play would attempt to invoke fear in its viewers. Photo by Stephanie Butzer.

By Stephanie Butzer

Under a full moon, it could have been Halloween at the Harold Acting Studio Monday evening. Cotton cobwebs, a fake skull and a buzzing black and white television decorated the front step. A hunched Frankenstein-like greeter grasping a three-tier candleholder led each individual or group in and directed them to a seat. This simple introduction confirmed the horror to come later in the play: “Lucid Nightmares” was not going to be an ordinary scare.

Four female seniors in the current Theatre Studies class, Sarah Beese, Elizabeth Floyd, Jayme Mantos and Ashley Meeks, wrote this play for class. It is the first fully developed play the group has ever produced.

The women found inspiration in Edgar Allen Poe’s work as they started writing the play. This deceased writer feasted on gothic horror and wrote some of the most disturbing pieces in American history.

Monday night was a full house. Audience members walked quickly inside the theater to find a seat in middle – a seat on the end of a row would surely mean they would have to interact with the horrors up close and personal. The room was foggy with dim lighting until the start of the play, when it went almost completely black.

Beese, clothed in black and holding a small candle, entered the stage first. Before exiting the stage, she warned the audience to guard their souls.

“Lucid Nightmares” was split into three parts. Each performance challenged the insanity of its characters. The title of the play itself questioned the reality of each scene. While some sections appeared realistic, others seemed more dreamlike.

The playwrights knew when the audience would feel calm because as soon as the tension started to die down, something would happen – a suffocation, a confession or a fantastical change – and viewers would be gripping their seats again.

The women also knew how to include precise and intriguing details to disturb the audience, such as an old woman’s obsession with a dead youth’s teeth. The playwrights were also perceptive of how to successfully portray two different scenes at the same time and have their viewers understand what had happened.

The second section of the play started after a somewhat unorganized and lengthy blackout. The Harold Studio presented other difficulties for the cast and crew. The platforms the performers walked across were exceptionally squeaky, which sometimes was favorable since the effect created additional anxiety. However, when it became difficult to hear the performers speak, it was easy to lose track of what was happening.

Aside from minor technical flaws like microphone static and fog machines’ sputters, “Lucid Nightmares” was a remarkably well-done play in an industry where horror is rarely experimented or attempted.

Video by Elon University seniors Merissa Blitz and Ryan Maas.

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