Atlanta Journal Constitution: "Ghost Brothers of Darkland County" A Musical Horror Story That Twists And Turns "A" Review
04.12.2012 - By Bert Osborne -
Atlanta Journal Constitution
Even before the house lights dim, “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County” starts
creeping you out.
Once you get inside the Alliance Theatre, take a moment to stand in awe of Todd
Rosenthal’s spectacularly spooky scenic design. Moss hangs from the rafters, and
a dilapidated water tower ominously overlooks the skeletal frame of an eerily
There are isolated people positioned around the periphery of the set, mostly
motionless, as though in limbo –- so it’s fairly startling to suddenly catch
sight of a dream-like image walking across the stage, a recurring example of the
visual effects that projection designer Adam Larsen will use to hypnotic and
haunting effect once the show begins.
The names of Rosenthal and Larsen may not sell a lot of tickets (and that also
goes for crackerjack lighting designer Robert Wierzel), but their work is just
as crucial as that of any of their higher-profile cohorts. It’s one thing to
concoct a fantastical idea for a musical horror story that twists and turns
between illusion and reality, from the past to the present or from here to the
hereafter. It’s another thing to logistically represent those parallel universes
on a theater stage.
All the advance hype surrounding “Ghost Brothers” has been somewhat scary, too.
How could it not be, as a world-premiere (no doubt Broadway-bound) collaboration
between none other than Stephen King, John Mellencamp and T Bone Burnett? But
never fear: Under the mesmerizing direction of our very own Susan V. Booth, the
Alliance production lives up to it with an almost supernatural ease.
As a prolific novelist, King is a legendary master of suspense. As a first-time
playwright, he doesn’t really break new ground so much as he sticks to what he
does best. Indeed, “Ghost Brothers” might impress as a freaky paranormal
morality tale on the surface, but at its core it spins a story as ancient as
Cain and Abel -- or, for one dysfunctional family living in backwoods
Mississippi circa 2007, as recent as a mysterious tragedy from 40 years earlier.
Joe McCandless (intensely portrayed by the Tony Award-winning Marietta native
Shuler Hensley) is the profoundly scarred patriarch of the family now, but back
in 1967 he was a 10-year-old kid (Royce Mann) who suffered the loss of this two
older brothers, Jack (Peter Albrink) and Andy (Travis Smith), contentious rivals
for everything from a rifle-shooting competition to the affections of the same
girl, Jenna (Kate Ferber).
That young Joe somehow managed to survive the traumatic ordeal isn’t exactly to
say that he has lived to tell about it. For the rest of his life, Joe has been
sadly resigned to burying it deep within himself and letting his inner demons
eat away at him. When he finally realizes that his own grown sons, Frank (Lucas
Kavner) and Drake (Justin Guarini), seem doomed to repeat the sins of their late
uncles -- right down to a feud over the same girl, Anna (Kylie Brown) -- the
time has come for Joe to speak his peace.
An outer demon takes the form of a tattooed punk-rock narrator of sorts called
The Shape (an unforgettable Jake La Botz), who lurks throughout the story, not
simply a detached observer of events but often subliminally guiding the
characters and their actions from the beyond. If he’s the devil on their
collective shoulder, the angel is Dan Coker (Christopher L. Morgan), the wise
old barkeep of the symbolic Dreamland Café, who joins with Jack, Andy and Jenna
as a wandering chorus of “left-behind spirits.”
Their poignant ballad “Home Again” is just one of some 20 songs in Mellencamp’s
rousing score, a fusion of blues, country and rock that’s superbly performed by
Booth’s 19-member cast. Under Burnett’s musical direction, the sensational
four-piece band never misses a beat.
Notwithstanding the memorable solos by La Botz that open each act (“That’s Me,”
“Lounging Around in Heaven”), the highlight among the production numbers
(choreographed by Daniel Pelzig) is the pulsating Act I finale, “Tear This Cabin
Down,” which essentially burns down the house in more ways than one (with
another nod to Larsen’s innovative work).
The show spirals wildly out of control in its final 10 or 15 minutes, as King
relishes the opportunity to find new theatrical methods for demonstrating his
penchant for bloody mayhem. Nevertheless, watching how the bodies mount will
leave you with chills.
“Ghost Brothers of Darkland County”
Through May 13. 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 2:30 and 8 p.m.
Saturdays; 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays. $45-$85. The Alliance Theatre (at the
Woodruff Arts Center), 1280 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta. 404-733-5000.