In Tom Horan’s Static, directed by Bridget Grace Sheaff, Emma (Amy Horan), a perky millennial, inherits, after her father’s death, the sad task of excavating the second house he owned later in life. It is curiously close to the home in which she grew up and belonged to the enigmatic Walter and Millie Burke (her Boo Radleys). According to infamous backyard legend, after a fire contained to their bedroom, the couple perished, along with their odd collection of knick-knacks.
A spunky archaeologist at heart, Emma becomes more interested in the voice recordings Walter left and the diaries Millie did than actually throwing away any evidence of hoarding.
Director Bridget Grace Sheaff favors highlighting personal connections over adding special effects to tell playwright Tom Horan’s mysterious new story, Static. With only five characters and never more than three actors on stage at once, crowded bookshelves and drawers upstage, a chest downstage, and a dining room table stage left, the production never feels overwhelming.
Luckily for Emma, played with spunk and much-welcomed bursts of humor by Amy Horan, her boyfriend Owen (Dylan Jackson), finally arrives (thanks to vacation days) with a trusty sandwich and plenty of moral support to fuel her venture. He is overcome by distrust of her growing obsession with the Burkes, however. Jackson brings a realistic tenderness to this character who verges on cliché—you know, the significant other who never understands—but that’s where Horan does something interesting.
Owen rightly keeps Emma in check with herself, yes, but may keep her a bit too tethered to reality. Emma talks clues when Owen talks contractors—he’s hired someone to help Emma organize, without asking her, so the two can put the house behind them.
Before his arrival, in Owen’s absence, Emma talks to herself. When her cell phone continues to cut off the voicemails she leaves him, she resorts to recording into another tape recorder. She has to share with him, she says, because it all feels so important.
Maybe relationships aren’t perfect; maybe sometimes we want and need to be alone to write our stories; but the rest of the time, aren’t we glad our person’s in the room, to share our story with us? Any writer understands and appreciates this dilemma.
Static clings too tightly to this sweet, serious tempo and would have benefited from more comedic relief. One moment nearly made everyone in the house laugh, I think because we needed to. Millie, played with diligent attention to body language by Megan Reichelt, enters, depressed as usual, looking pained, pads about the stage, looks more pained, then exits, without a word. Walter, played with quiet confidence by Keith Richards, flummoxed, says shakily, “Okayyyyy…” Funny. We were all thinking it.
The climax of Static is its strongest scene. There’s an interesting, albeit far-fetched, plot twist and touching dialogue between Walter and Emma, who talk across that dining room table and across time, Field of Dreams-style.
Static comes in slightly too far away from the supernatural, though, and too close to the “G” in “PG-13.” Imagine M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs without any glimpses of eerie alien extremities and with one too many emotional dining room table scenes.What if you didn’t see any of the dead people the kid who “sees dead people” sees? Even Harper Lee’s young Scout’s got to encounter some darkness—suspense—before befriending her neighborhood “ghoul,” Boo Radley. Horan’s story delves into more mature themes as it progresses and poses thoughtful questions on the past, but could have stood for a sharper, haunting edge.
Everyone at some point or another has had to leave a place, an experience, certain sounds of his or her life in the past. Sometimes we don’t have a choice. Footsteps, one of the metaphors the play offers, are a comforting image for those times. They speak to what you did, and recall who you met, heard, talked to and passed by in those moments. They leave room for meeting again as you move forward.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.
Static played on June 10, 2016 at The Source Festival performing at Source – 1835 14th Street, NW, in Washington, D.C. For tickets, call (866) 811-4111, or purchase them online. Performances continue on June 17th at 9 PM, June 25th at 1 PM and 8 PM, June 29th at 8 PM, and on July 3rd at 4:30 PM.