Campy Thriller Has Plenty of Surprises


Image/Clifton Arts Center

Last night I attended a showing of the world premiere of “House on Haunted Hill,” a joint fundraiser for Kismet Performing Artists Theatre and the Clifton Arts Center, two Clifton-based non-profits that support and highlight the arts. If you enjoy a good scare, peppered with some campy humor, see if you can snag some tickets for their final performances tonight and tomorrow.

The mood is set before you even get inside with the Arts Center, sitting at the top of the hill near the well, bathed in eerie purple light. As you enter, the lobby decor further signals that something spooky is in the cards. The gallery space (which you should absolutely visit the next time there’s an exhibition) has been amazingly transformed into the living room of an old haunted house with a full set, doors, and even a partial staircase. Droning organ music haunts its way through the room to further set the mood. A lighting rig and surprisingly effective special effects add to the atmosphere throughout the show.

This original play, featuring two Clifton actors, is set on the night of a wacky “party,” hosted by an eccentric billionaire and his wife, whose love for her husband is eclipsed entirely by her disdain for him. Several guests arrive, drawn by the rich man’s promise of great reward…if only they can last the night in the cursed house.

The play is based on the 1959 film of the same name, reimagined to include many modern elements and several surprise twists. Don’t worry; I’m not giving them away.

Some of the show’s highlights included actor Alan Niebuhr’s very believable portrayal of Frederick, the billionaire. His delivery as the cooly detached host and husband was smooth and effortless. Wilson J. Verzosa, a Clifton resident, played a convincing young Lance in this, his first stage performance. Kurt Irizarry’s special effects lent a movie-like eeriness to the play, delivering a number of truly spooky elements whose mechanics were well-disguised, allowing the audience to suspend disbelief in the supernatural.

Directed by Kathleen Kellaigh and produced by the women-led Kismet, Michael Susko’s play brings the delight of live theatre to Clifton. With a fresh new look at an old tale, it’s the perfect haunt for this Halloween weekend.

You won’t have to wait long for your first scare; the house’s ghosts make their presence known early on. But perhaps creepy little girls who drift silently about the room don’t bother you…

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