Play Dead: When I went to see Play Dead I was lead onstage, stuffed in a steel casket, beaten with a crowbar, soaked in sulfuric acid, and my dessicated corpse was fed into a floor grate to the ghost of Albert Fish. I apparently went mad in the afterlife when the showman attempted to contact my spirit and I began chucking furniture around the theatre. It took the spirit of a sexy nude medium to bring me back from the dead.
The experience was one of the most memorable I've had as a horror fan.
Play Dead is an off-Broadway play/performance art piece created by Teller of Penn and Teller fame. It's a nifty fusion of ghost story, seance, and magic show, where famed Coney Island performer Todd Robbins tells a series of stories about madness, murder, and the Beyond.
At first, the play is simply a ghoulishly good time. Robbins' performance is pure Cryptkeeper glee. He unfurls the tales with such captivating theatrical delight that I felt like I was around the campfire hearing ghost stories as a kid. He accentuates the tales with amazing stage effects and feats of illusion. He also brings the audience into the fun. There are moments in the play when all lights, including the exit lights were shut off, leaving the audience in pitch darkness. My weirdo friend took the opportunity to freak me out by poking me while we were sitting in the darkness and I jumped about 30 feet in the air.
All the ghost stories are all creepy fun and it's worth seeing just for the fun of it, but the second part of the show moved me very deeply.
I've always found it fascinating that the most famous illusionists are the most vocal opponents of sham mediums. They know the tricks and take great umbrage at opportunists using them to take advantage of people's grief. While the end of the show gets a little melodramatic, Play Dead's message is ultimately moving: the horror genre exists because death is a part of all of our lives. We mythologize our fears in order to explore them and ultimately make a sort of uncomfortable peace with them.