Campus theater show ‘70 Scenes of Halloween’ is captivatingly haunting

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Horrific and comedic, lighthearted and serious, 70 vignettes all told out of order —  this is “70 Scenes of Halloween” at first glance. What played out was much more complex and intricate, featuring comedy grounded in marital tension and traditional horror tropes running through the plot. The play was hard to categorize and even harder to get right, yet UC Berkeley’s Department of Theater, Dance, and Performance Studies, or TDPS, did just that in a captivating and consuming production that illuminated the story’s many layers and made it worth watching.

“70 Scenes of Halloween,” directed by Christopher Herold, was the first production of TDPS’s 2018-19 season and played Oct. 11 through Oct. 14. Written by playwright Jeffrey M. Jones, the story is based on his own marriage. It follows the two characters, Jeff and Joan, on Halloween night as they deal not only with monsters creeping around their house but also the monsters within their marriage. Consisting of 70 scenes that are meant to be performed in any chosen order, the performance showed small snippets of this couple’s relationship that depicted the complexities of marriage.

The intricacy of these scenes required subtlety of movement, whether it be how the characters stood in an argument scene or how a monster was seen by the audience but not the characters. The stage blocking was expertly constructed by Herold, flowing seamlessly — as seamlessly as the natural fluidity of two people who have lived together for nine years.

This complex movement would not have been possible without a viable set design, which acted as the foundation for all the characters’ motions. The set of “70 Scenes of Halloween” was designed by Alexandra Grabow and depicted a seemingly normal living room, with chairs that didn’t quite match and green walls. By creating a set with two layers of walls and wide windows, Grabow allowed space for the dimensional elements of the show.

In the opening scene, one of the actors playing Jeff (Theo Rosenfeld), walked through every space of the set. It started with a glimpse of him walking past the outside window, then him entering through the entryway, coming into the living room, passing through the hallway to the kitchen and, eventually, going up the stairs. This scene essentially showed off the space of the set, making note of its layers as the audience watched Jeff disappear through each crevice. This opening scene was the perfect collaboration between Herold and Grabow and set the stage for the elaborate nature of the production that was to come.

This establishing scene allowed for the attention to then remain primarily on the acting. Considering that all eight actors were playing the same two roles, a strong group dynamic was essential, and the ensemble cast more than delivered this. Each cast member was wholly grounded in the play — with everyone on the same page, it was hardly noticeable when a different actor playing the same character suddenly appeared in the next scene.

In one scene, Devin Lizardi and Madeline Yagle, as Jeff and Joan, depicted a happier state of the play’s marriage: Jeff was smoking weed and Joan was amused by his paranoia. In a different scene Jeff, played by Rosenfeld at this point, was admitting his infidelity to Joan, played by Jade Moujaes, who stayed completely still and silent throughout his long speech before whispering that she loves him. The scenes were starkly different yet utterly believable in their illustration of the same marriage. This was a testament to the actors’ fluid chemistry and synchronization with each other.

The strengths of everyone involved came together to create a truly thrilling look into a marriage’s wavering state on Halloween night. The production flawlessly blended genres together, making the play a truly disorienting experience that was only heightened by the scrambled order of the scenes. And the achievement of this disorientation not only added to the overall alluring quality of “70 Scene of Halloween” but was what made it so lastingly haunting.

Nikki Munoz covers theater. Contact her at [email protected].