LAKEVIEW — This is a spooky time of year — but the latest stage offering from the Theater Wit doubles — actually triples — down on scary holidays to feature something that can be more terrifying than Halloween: holidays with the family.
“Household Spirits” takes place over a week that encompasses Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s Eve in a Westchester County home. In the upper-middle-class family, patriarch Philip (Doug MacKechnie) has just been arrested for a DUI, angering his new wife, Evelyn (Jennifer Jelsema). Meanwhile, his struggling son, Erik (Nathan Hile), ponders enlisting in the military and doesn’t have a lot in common with his flighty step-sister, Rox (Téa Baum), home from college.
And stalwart family housekeeper Angela (Cindy Gold) is seemingly the only one aware that the home is being haunted by Philip’s first wife and Erik’s mother, Clara (Ilyssa Fradin).
On top of all that, a life-size doll shows up, offering sentient voiceover.
At the very least, “Household Spirits” may make you feel better about your own impending holidays in comparison.
The “spirits” in the title are two-fold, referring not only to the ghostly memories that a home can inherit, but the issues that often accompany the alcohol-laden celebrations that come with a holiday. The family has other issues, as well: The newly blended family hasn’t blended very well, Philip and Erik still don’t seem to have come to terms with their grief over Clara’s death and Erik worries that he may have inherited the mental illness that led to his mother’s suicide.
The pressure-cooker setting of an upstate family holiday pushes all of these elements to the forefront.
Playwright Mia McCullough said that for some of the issues in the play, which opens Friday, making its world premiere debut at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., she was inspired by people she knows in real life.
“I had watched a couple of people close to me go through recovery,” McCullough said. “And certainly, the holidays were a time that they were dreading and that were really challenging to get through. Because yes, I think people do rely on alcohol a lot to get through the holidays.
“The doll that’s in the play was actually a doll in a friend of mine’s home, and there had been a suicide in that home. I was sort of intrigued by this idea of, wow, somebody killed themselves in your family in this house quite some time ago, and you all still live here. That’s kind of intense. And then you’ve got this weird doll sitting in your kitchen that like feels like it’s interrupting all the conversations just by existing.”
Even though the doll stemmed from real life, there’s a sense of the fantastical in “Household Spirits,” from various family members conversing with the Julia doll to communicating in a variety of ways with Clara, who’s haunting the house and its inhabitants.
Fortunately, the cast members that make up this small ensemble are not only all standouts in their own right; they effectively portray the familial closeness that makes their character portrayals believable.
Director Eileen Tull said she stressed “this collaborative process where it’s not only about who can accomplish the role or who fits the role, it’s about who can work best in this environment. I come from an athletic team sports background, as well as a theater kid background, and it really is like, who knows how to pass the ball, who knows when to take their shot? Who knows when to block for the other person?
“By getting all these people in a room, they’re very generous with each other. And we have fight scenes, we have intimacy, we have a lot of things that people are really going to need to have trust with each other.”
Even with all those heightened emotions, the play harbors a lot of humor, as well as tons to ponder on the ride home.
Because even though “Household Spirits” is not a message play, there’s still a lesson Tull would like audience members to take away with them.
“I think, for me, when it comes to talking about these private matters, whether it is about wealth inequality, or addiction, or mental health, or just difficulty with family, the polite thing to do is to not bring it up and just sort of muscle through it, especially at the holidays,” Tull said. “And we are taught to be ashamed of a lot of problems.
“I feel like, the more that I talk about my issues, whether that is talking to people, friends, family, that tends to be more healing. Shame never heals things. And I think that in this play, they kind of reach a point where they can’t avoid these things anymore. You can’t shove down these feelings or these spirits or these issues.”
“Household Spirits” runs through Nov. 11 at the Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave. Tickets are $25-$65. More information about this play and other Wit offerings is available on the theater website.
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