Horror falls flat on Broadway

The play “Grey House,” which opened this week at the Lyceum Theatre, attempts to be a new horror movie on an old Broadway.

Such a merger sounds smart in theory, with the genre doing reliably big business at cinemas and boasting hoards of ready-made fans. Why not produce “M3GAN Live,” or “The Nun” in two acts?

Well, for one simple reason: because the kind of paralyzing fear and gruesome death that fuels horror films is just about impossible to satisfyingly replicate at the theater. 

Theater review

1 hour and 40 minutes with no intermission. At the Lyceum Theatre. 149 West 45th Street.

Many scenes in Levi Holloway’s play — which is not based on any one film — are creepy or camp, but hardly terrifying. 

At a haunted house, at least, performers get in your face and sometimes freakily touch you.

However, director Joe Mantello’s production of “Grey House” only offers a few audio-based jump-scares and a vaguely spooky atmosphere. The tension is swallowed whole even by a house as intimate as the Lyceum, and shudders from the audience are rare.

Once we’ve become accustomed to the occasional burst of unexpected noise, the play settles for being merely unsettling.

There is something off about the child dwellers of “Grey House.”
MurphyMade, , 2023

“Grey House” is watered-down Blumhouse (“Get Out”) with shades of “The Shining.” Max (understudy Claire Karpen was on, but the role is usually played by Tatiana Maslany) and Henry (Paul Sparks), a married couple, get into a car accident in the mountains during a blizzard, and seek refuge in a cabin occupied by five creepy kids. 

These Children of the Cold — led by Marlow (a mannered Sophia Anne Caruso) — speak in riddles, sign language and overwrought faux-etry, and sing slick nursery rhyme songs that have the polish of “Matilda the Musical.”

With annoying names, such as Squirrel (Colby Kipnes), A1656 (Alyssa Emily Marvin), Bernie (Millicent Simmonds) and The Boy (Eamon Patrick O’Connell), they are supposed to be mysteriously precocious, but as written they’re pure fakery.

One brash adult, Raleigh (Laurie Metcalf), cares for the youngsters, and we assume she must be their mother. The venerable stage and TV star is entertaining as ever, but of course a plaid-clad backwoods weirdo is hardly a stretch for her.

Trapped by the storm, Max and Henry make themselves at home and are oddly unfazed by the many disturbing sights they witness. The house has a supernatural mind of its own, and I suppose its magical pull is why they never try to run away. I’d turn cast-iron skillets into snowshoes before spending the night with these little monsters.

Tatiana Maslany and Paul Sparks play a couple trapped in a spooky mountain home in "Grey House."
Tatiana Maslany and Paul Sparks play a couple trapped in a spooky mountain home in “Grey House.”
MurphyMade, , 2023

Unfortunately, the play plateaus early and has no gripping build, with no riveting performances to speak of.

Some images, such as illuminated jars filled with liquid and a net of blood-red sinew, are striking, though. A doll sits at the foot of the stage and stares at us the entire show, giving a terrific inanimate turn. Indeed, what comes off best is Scott Pask’s woodsy set of hidden secrets.

The self-serious script by Holloway, on the other hand, is a mess of forced moods, half-baked ideas and horror tropes. The play tries to protect itself from accusations of cliché by having Henry acknowledge from the offset that “I’ve seen this movie before,” “Scream”-style.

But the problem is not that we’re reminded of Stephen King or Jordan Peele — it’s that the execution here is far worse, the second half is a slog and nobody knows what the hell is going on.

Welcome to the House of 1,000 Snoozes.

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