Timed for Halloween, this latest digital theater, livestreamed from the closet in Joshua William Gelb’s East Village apartment, feels as much of a landmark production as the original “Nosferatu,” which was also an experiment in a new medium – F.W. Murnau’s 1922 silent film, which artfully adapted Brian Stoker’s 19th century novel, “Dracula.”
Gelb’s 35-minute version (the film was three times longer) is both forward-looking and a delightful throwback – to at least two different eras, the 1920s and the 1950s.
After signing up, I got an envelope in my USPS mailbox containing both a Q-Code and a pair of cardboard 3D glasses.
The code led me to a YouTube channel which, following the instructions, I watched on my smart phone vertically rather than on my computer, since the presentation was in shape of, well, a closet, tall vertical, narrow width.
“Good evening and happy Halloween,” Gelb begins, dressed in a suit and tie and with a voice and manner that reminded me (surely not coincidentally) of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. He explains the origins of his “Theatre in Quarantine” during the pandemic, when he made a stage out of his closet, which measures just four feet wide, eight feet tall, and two feet deep. (Theatre in Quarantine’s many fans don’t need such an introduction, of course, having been blown away by the innovative stagecraft — closet craft? — of such works as Blood Meal, All The Different Ways Commodore Matthew Perry Could Have Died and I Am Sending You The Sacred Face, a musical about Mother Teresa)
Gelb then offers some instructions (like: put on the 3D glasses) and then, in a humorously (but convincingly) creepy tone, “Are you in a dark room. Have you locked the door so you remain undisturbed”
What follows is a spot-on replica of a silent horror film in four Acts, complete with an appropriately eerie original score, scary sound effects and title cards, in which three performers act out the story: A real estate broker Thomas (Nick Lehane) hugs goodbye to his wife Ellen (Rosa Wolff) and travels to the home of Count Orlok (Gelb) in Transylvania, because His Grace has expressed interest in purchasing the house across the way from the broker’s own. At the business dinner with the count at his castle, Thomas accidentally cuts his thumb – the Count is enthralled with the dribble of blood.
The Count moves into the house, and the terror begins, with frequent fades to black; the wife attacked by errant hands in her bed , by an expanding black mass, and then by the full-bodied Count; flashes of flying bats and jittery geometric shapes, shadowy images I don’t always understand, which is surely the point; that’s what makes them scary. It’s not as clear, as in the original film, that the wife sacrifices herself to vanquish the Count. In Theatre in Quarantine’s version, the vampire seems to get the final word.
The photographs and Gelb’s videos below only hint at the experience, which is different watching in 3d on your phone, a bouquet of flowers blooming in your face or (more apt for the story) black-clad fingers jutting out at you.
There are two more live performances left at 7 and 9 p.m. tonight (Halloween!) via NYU Skirball. 2D versions are available.