Playwright Brian C. Petti was inspired to write “Banshee,” now in its West Coast premiere at Theatre of NOTE, by tragedies within his own family.
The result – a blend of an old-fashioned ghost story and a kitchen sink family drama – has moments of real sweetness, intervals of flagrant family dysfunction and a minute or two of genuinely gut-wrenching horror. However, the missed opportunities in Petti's play render its sum less than its parts.
Ever since the death of his father, Junior, a.k.a. Jerry (Bill Voorhees), has lived with his widowed mother, Kit (Lynn Odell), an irascible Irishwoman who has bullied and badgered her 40-year-old son into a breakdown.
When Junior's policeman brother Neil (Joe Mahon) fixes him up with much younger single mom Cara (Alysha Brady), also Irish-born, Junior is instantly smitten. But when Kit receives a visitation from her dead husband warning of a “banshee” in their midst, Junior's precarious sanity hangs in the balance.
William Moore Jr.'s set design is starkly functional, and Matt Richter's lighting and Cricket S Myers' sound set just the right mood for these frequently creepy proceedings.
Director James R. Carey and his cast, which includes Norm Johnson, attack their material with considerable craft and sincerity. Brady's bluff matter-of-factness is particularly refreshing, and Voorhees charts his character's mental disintegration with unsettling specificity.
Unfortunately, unnecessarily frequent scene shifts give Petti's narrative a herky-jerky quality that Moore cannot sufficiently redress in his staging.
As for missed opportunities, one glaring example is Petti's failure to adequately set up the significance of the Banshee's comb – an omission that obscures the root of Junior's drastic psychic descent.
Those sorts of elisions, combined with a contrived ending straight out of a “Twilight Zone” rerun, blunt much of the play's essential horror – a shame, considering the obvious potential of Petti's otherwise gripping drama.