Is there life after death? That’s the crux of Little Seer Productions’ presentation of Mat Schaffer’s dramatized seance, “Simon Says”.
Schaffer is the host of the Boston Sunday Review public affairs program on 98.5 The Sports Hub. He worked at WBCN-FM and Kiss 108, as film-theater critic, is “The Culture Vulture,” a food critic-author, and also holds a degree in interdisciplinary studies in mysticism from Tufts University. He doesn’t offer answers, but creates a lot of buzz among eager theatergoers.
The cast and crew aren’t trying to make a profound statement here, either. Their slick, intimate, multimedia take on the subject leaves the door open to increased exploration and discussion about reincarnation, life after death, and related topics. Living on the North Shore, I’m surrounded by vivid tales about haunted houses, ghosts, ghost ships, and troubled spirits wandering the streets and hovering around graveyards. Declared the Halloween capital of the world, Salem is a mecca for every charlatan claiming to be a channeler, medium, psychic, spirit guide, witch, warlock, Satanist. There are also bona fide spiritualists and scientists. You name it, we have it.
So given the area’s spooky legacy, it’s only natural “Simon Says’” boasts a strong local influence. The cast is admirably directed by Beverly resident, international writer-director-actor Myriam Cyr, whose expansive resume reads like a theatrical/film who’s-who. North Shore resident-Salem State University (SSU) graduate-Boston Children’s Theatre program coordinator Jay Pension is producer.
Rhode Island transplant-SSU graduate Anthony J. Goes is mesmerizing as James, who undergoes spiritual transformations, from the fed-up young man who wants to go to college, to time-traveling spirit guide, Simon, and Biblical spirit, Aaron.
James fell out of a tree when he was 3 years old, lay in a coma, regained consciousness, but with uncanny abilities. Dr. Williston (veteran Boston actor Ken Baltin), discovered James in juvenile hall, realized he was gifted, and took James under his wing for 10 years, hoping together they could prove the existence of spiritual beings.
Calling himself a freak, James cries, “I’m nothing but a scientific experiment.” He’s angry, fed up. He craves normalcy. He applied to college, but Williston sabotaged the application. He’s arranging a cross-country tour and gathering data to write a book, so he must continue to observe and document James/ Simon’s transformational trances.
Brianne Beatrice, SSU Theatre Arts undergraduate-turned-professor, portrays Annie, a troubled young widow from Cincinnati, whose husband died in an accident. Unable to accept her loss, Annie’s aunt Shirley urges Annie to seek solace and “guidance” from gifted medium James and Williston. Annie is a descendant of great author-medium, Edgar Cayce, but she’s also a high school science teacher and non-believer. Regardless, she brings her husband’s wedding ring for James to use in his first one-on-one session, but she loses it.
No worries. Simon knows all, sees all, and finds all.
Unfortunately, Beatrice’s character lacks dimension and depth, perhaps because of her wavering, confusion and doubt.
In a dual reference to Annie’s husband’s death and her reluctant meeting with James, Simon intones there are no accidents and they were pre-destined to spiritually reunite.
James’ beamed, shadowy, illuminated otherworldly presence takes vaporous forms and shapes, thanks to John Malinowski’s eerie lighting, Johnathan Carr’s video projections, Christopher Grace’s illusions, and Paul Ezzy’s special effects. The visions are reminiscent of the phosphorescent ectoplasm that debunkers like Harry Houdini exposed, but James/Simon is the real deal. We think.
Little Seer Productions is totally green so theatergoers receive no printed programs. Additional information about the show is accessible online, though.
BOX INFO: One-act dramatized seance, written by Mat Schaffer, presented by Little Seer Productions, through March 14, at the Boston Center for the Arts Plaza Theatre, 539 Tremont St., South End, Boston: Thursday, Friday, also Wednesday, March 11, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday,2,7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. Tickets, $40. Special 75-minute, one-act appearances with world-touring mind reader-mentalist, “The Blindfolded Madman,” Christopher Grace, are March 13,14, at 10 p.m. ($25). For tickets and more information on both events, visit simonsaystheplay.com, BostonTheatreScene.com or call 617-933-8600.