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Freed Spirits

a Comedy Mystery
by Daryl Lisa Fazio

COMPANY : Horizon Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Horizon Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
ID# 4970

SHOWING : September 23, 2016 - October 30, 2016



Oakland cemetery has a ghost. A freak tornado cuts a swath through Atlanta’s historic graveyard, exposing buried clues and evoking eerie sightings. Tour guide Susan and steampunk survivalist MJ unite with a geeky spirit photographer and a retired pathologist to solve the mystery. This band of urban misfits races through the monuments and headstones while the line between past and present blurs in Atlanta’s most spectacular spooky setting.

Director Lisa Adler
Keisha Jimmica Collins
Susan Dickey Suehyla El-Attar
Dr. Netta Finch Marguerite Hannah
Byron White Jonathan Horne
McKinley Etheridge Spencer Kolbe Miller
M.J. Bell Bryn Striepe
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Scooby Doo Does Oakland Cemetery
by playgoer
Friday, October 14, 2016
Daryl Lisa Fazio’s "Freed Spirits" has all the hallmarks of a Scooby Doo mystery. Four characters (and, boy, are they characters!) visit Oakland Cemetery after a tornado and piece together clues to solve the mystery of ghostly sightings. They all have backgrounds that uniquely suit them for the task. Dr. Netta Finch (Marguerite Hannah) is a pathologist and a medium. Byron White (Jonathan Horne) investigates paranormal behavior. M.J. Bell (Bryn Striepe) has finely tuned skills of deduction. And Susan Dickey (Suehyla El-Attar) has an eidetic (photographic) memory and the personality of a sloppily affectionate large dog. All the others have personality quirks of their own.

Lisa Adler has directed the first act in something approaching the broad style of TV comedy for kids. It’s pleasant, but not very realistic. The second act slows down a little to have the requisite heart-to-heart scenes where we learn more about the deep personal lives of the characters, then throws in a twist or two in the explanation of the ghostly sightings. This act is a little more real in emotional terms, but still reeks of the playwright’s manipulations. It’s all very cleverly wrapped up, but it has all the lasting impact of a half-hour TV show.

Moriah Curley-Clay and Isabel Curley-Clay have designed an impressive set with revolving components that seem intended to invoke different spots within the cemetery. It doesn’t really work that way, with the pathways and background remaining the same. Scenic painting of aged stone is good near the audience and less realistic upstage. Bradley Bergeron’s projections give a feel for the Atlanta skyline, for the tornado, and for gravestones, but often appear washed out when stage lights are full. Mary Parker’s lighting design and Thom Jenkins’ sound design neatly handle all the effects required of them.

Costumes, by the Curley-Clay sisters with associate designer Jordan Jaked Carrier, also do all the script requires of them. Kate Bidwell LaFoy’s props do that and more. This is a good-looking production, but without the cinematic flexibility that the script seems to suggest. That student Keisha (Jimmica Collins) is attempting to make a documentary of Oakland Cemetery reinforces this lack of flexibility.

Acting is consistent in style across the board. Quirks and comedy are concentrated on the core four. Spencer Kolbe Miller plays a spectral Confederate soldier and Ms. Collins doubles as a ghostly slave, with less dimension to those characters than to the core four (at least until the play begins to wrap up). It’s just so unbelievable that each of the characters suddenly reveals a new talent or skill at the exact moment it’s needed to advance the plot.

"Freed Spirits" has a slightly bloated feel to it, as if an hour-long plot has been expanded to twice that length to make a full evening of theatre. The formulaic nature of that plot keeps things moving, but it bogs down a bit without the occasional break of commercial interruptions. Lisa Adler doesn’t go all out camping it up; nor does she ground all the characters in quotidian reality. There doesn’t seem to be a good meshing of styles in the playwriting, direction, acting, and technical aspects. The material requires a special kind of approach, and the approach taken in this production seems not sufficiently imaginative. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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