By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
13 Dead Dreams of “Eugene” (Stage 1, Westbury Theatre)
The story that spawned 13 Dead Dreams of “Eugene” is downright unnerving. A man is found dead in a ditch in small-town Ohio; his unidentified unburied corpse is then put on display — for 35 years. And — this pretty much defines creepy — the townspeople find themselves sharing recurring bad dreams.
What gives this cool this little ghost story its extra shiver of unease is that it’s true. Paul Strickland and Erika Kate MacDonald, confidential and persuasive Cincinnati-based story-spinners (witness Balls of Yarn, Evacuated, Papa Squat), have the vintage documentary evidence from local newspapers and a locked archive to back them up.
Can an entire town be haunted? And what of the haunt-er — the ghost who haunts them, and infiltrates their nights with his pleas to solve the great mystery of his identity? “Who am I?” wonders an eerie amplified voice, over and over. The body the ghost has exited has died alone, unclaimed by friends or family.
What enhances the quivery reverb of the story is the theatrical way Strickland and MacDonald set the tale forth. It’s artful, but it’s ingeniously low-tech. The illusion of something homespun gives the show credentials in reality. Shadows flicker, both the human and the puppet kind. The performers, who sing from time to time, are stalked by elongated shadow versions of themselves. The songs are spooky and smart.
The lighting is from hand-held, improvised sources — flashlights, lightbulbs. And the imagery lingers in the mind. Thousands of moths swarm out of an old suitcase. A bullet wound lights up inside a body. Moonlight shines through the holes in the ceiling of a derelict theatre. Tears collect in a glass. Severed skulls become whistles in the wind.
Dreams, after all, are contagious. The mind sees to that. Get a grip. Just saying.