CTC’s ‘Apparition’: Something wicked this way comes

APPARITION_V2When asked to select a play for the Chautauqua Theater Company’s Late Night Special, Heidi Handelsman immediately knew the perfect choice.

After seeing Apparition: An Uneasy Play of the Underknown workshopped more than 10 years ago, Handelsman said she became obsessed with the piece.

CTC’s one-time showing of the Late Night Special Apparition is at 11:30 p.m. tonight in Bratton Theater.

“It deeply implanted itself in my mind and it really fixed itself there,” Handelsman said. “It’s not an easy play to find, but it has a sort of cult following.”

After assistant directing A Raisin in the Sun and Dairyland, Handelsman, CTC’s 2014 directing fellow, is now assisting on The Tempest. Much like the New Play Workshops offer design fellows free reign on conceptualizing a set, CTC’s Late Night Special allows the directing fellow to select and lead her own production.

After a night telling ghost stories in Brawdy Theater Studios with another fellow, Handelsman said she was further inspired to put Apparition by Anne Washburn on the Bratton stage.

“Chautauqua at night pre-season is quiet and eerie,” Handelsman said. “Suddenly, everything felt a little prickly — a little eerie and a little unsafe. We were a little on edge and it was also very exciting. That’s the sensation that this play brings about for me, and I wanted to share it.”

Washburn’s “dense, poetic, language play,” in Handelsman’s words, focuses on the underknown and the possibilities of the dark. CTC will set the work in The May Queen’s office set, contextualizing the production in a corporate environment.

“She gets insta-environment, but she also has to make it work,” said CTC Artistic Director Vivienne Benesch. “This is really our opportunity to give them creative space.”

Featuring conservatory actors Jonathan Majors, Christian DeMarais, Toby Onwumere, Marianne Rendon and Kate Eastman, the characters hunker down in the office late at night to share stories with one another.

“These people are in a haze working in this office all the time and they don’t really have anything that pops them out of their foggy reality that they’ve been living in and makes them feel things, and makes them question things, and makes them actually engage. That’s why they do this every Friday or Saturday night,” DeMarais said. “Even if you go to crazy, dark places, at the end of the day you have each other.”

By staging the spine-chilling play late in the night, CTC hopes to entice younger Chautauquans to the theater. But audiences should expect to leave a bit unnerved. The production includes minimal lighting and props to create a greater sense of unknown in the air.

“It forces the audience member to engage with the senses in a higher way that they don’t normally engage with,” DeMarais said. “Even just the temperature in the room, how you feel that, is very different.”

Handelsman said audiences should arrive at the theater curious.

“Whatever your expectations of theater are, this will be different and it will be scary. But not in a horror kind of way, not in a scary movie kind of way, in a very quiet way that will get under your skin,” Handelsman said. “There’s a wickedness to the play, there’s a delicious wickedness.”