To see a world premiere of live theater is like “breathing life into words that have never been heard before,” said Johanna Broughton, executive director of Adam Kraar’s new play “The Spirit House.”
An original story of international politics and religious mysticism, “The Spirit House” opened last Friday at the Performance Network and will continue through the month.
A story of an American family living in Thailand during the Vietnam War, the play is founded on religious superstitions and layered with politics, family conflict and adolescent coming-of age. The story begins with the expected uncertainty that comes with starting a new life far from home.
To Miriam, played by Carla Milarch, Thailand is fascinating and romantic. She is enlivened as a woman and as the wife of a powerful and successful diplomat.
Her husband Herbert, played by David Wolber, represents focus and consistency amidst the hot tropical environment of Thailand. Their two children, Aurora (Katherine Banks) and Marty (James Frounfelter), find themselves in a magical land of spirits and legends.
The family’s servant and nanny, Purpang, played by Shelly Fager, informs the family of ancient stories and religious beliefs that become essential to the plot. Intrigued by Purpang’s stories, Aurora pays homage to the ancient spirits, offering gifts to the spirit house behind their home. These mysterious apparitions that Purpang speak of create a web of turmoil and suspicion that ultimately destroy this humble family.
Through a creative combination of lighting and set design the audience is drawn into the center of the story’s internal conflicts. Lighting that seems to always be a hue of sunset and fire, represents the heat and rage of Herb and Miriam’s deteriorating marriage.
Throughout the play, there are insightful monologues in which Aurora stands center-stage with a single spotlight. This technique seems to represent her isolation after an innocent love affair with Gary, the haughty teenage neighbor.
As the fascinating story unfolds, the audience is lured deeper and deeper into unknown territory.
With a hazy background of palm trees and tangled vines, the audience is enveloped by the tropical environment and tension of the characters’ relationships. By the end of the play one barely recognizes the characters one met at the onset.
Written with passion and vigor, this play transforms the simple idea of an American family in Thailand, to a thickly layered story of how the spirits of one culture can seep into the skin of unsuspecting visitors. Though the story is told through the perspective of Aurora in a series of stern monologues, Adam Kraar based much of the story on his own experiences. He presented a time and place that was the backdrop of his own adolescence, Thailand in the mid-1960s.
What he expands upon is the political and climate of the time and its effects on an innocent American family, and an innocent young girl. Kraar’s intended to connect America’s loss of innocence with that of Aurora’s own pain and guilt from a young love affair.
However, there seemed to be many more variables that dominated the story. To some, this may have made the play excitingly complicated. To others, however, “The Spirit House” may have contained too many themes within the two-hour performance.