Watch out for Kim, the protagonist of “The Other Thing,” Emily Schwend’s slow-to-launch but gratifyingly sanguinary play about ghost hunters — and the ghosts who come when they call. And watch out for Samantha Soule, who gives a mesmerizing performance as a woman in constant battle with her own demons. What you really have to watch out for, though, is giving a ghost a good reason to pay you a visit.
The intimate uptown space that Off Broadway’s Second Stage Theater uses for experimental projects is appropriately set for a good ghost story. Kris Stone has designed a wraparound set of weathered wooden planks to suggest an old barn in rural Virginia, and Broken Chord has supplied the surround-sound of cicadas and tree frogs and other creatures that come out at night to let us know that we’re deep in the woods — alone.
Carl Tapp (John Doman), a garrulous old ghost hunter who just loves to hear himself talk (and talk and talk), is sitting on a camp chair having a beer and bending the ear of an attentive journalist named Kim (Soule), who is taking careful notes and seems prepared to sit out the night with him waiting for an appearance from the spirit that a widowed farmer’s wife swears is living in her barn.
Carl’s sullen son, Brady (James Kautz), an apprentice ghost hunter who looks as if he’d rather be hunting more warm-blooded game, is the kind of country boy who’s been brought up to respect his elders and obey his father, so he minds his manners when his old man bullies him. But Carl is unnecessarily hard on the young man, bossing him around and hogging the microphone, as if he’s afraid that his son might steal the narrative and put a stop to his bragging.
Doman (catch him in “Gotham”) makes a colorful character of the chatty old ghost hunter, but he’s an awful bore, and the playwright lets him go on at unendurable length and to no purpose, since he doesn’t have any good ghost stories to tell anyway. Worse, he also tries to intimidate Kim, showing her the same truculence he shows his son. Not a good move, and by the end of the act this overbearing bully will come to regret his behavior.
This first act runs more than an hour, and if some kind of ghost doesn’t make an appearance before it’s over, walkouts would be perfectly justified.
But that wouldn’t be advisable, as it turns out, because Kim really comes to life in the more action-oriented second act, which helmer Lucie Tiberghien smartly directs for speed as well as atmosphere. Soule has a riveting onstage presence, and when polite, deferential Kim suddenly strides out in a more vibrant persona and asks the audience if they want to hear “a real ghost story,” the whole house applauds.
True to her word, Kim delivers a ghost story, with real thrills and quite a few chills, and Soule revels in her transformation. But the scribe undermines her own good work, because while the vengeful ghost she conjures up makes a good case (and a highly original one, at that) for the mayhem she causes, not all of her victims deserve their fate.