‘Man Cave’ Review: What Happened to an American Night

Late on a stormy monsoon evening in a well-appointed basement in Sedona, Arizona, the ghosts are restless. Or something—the housekeeper punches and scratches the walls of a congressman’s gated house where Imaculada is holding the castle all by himself.

When her friends Rosemary and Lupita arrive unaware, fleeing domestic dangers, it doesn’t take long for them to be frightened by the voices.

“You must explain to the guests on arrival the unusual condition of your house,” Rosemary scolded dryly.

But that’s exactly what she needs: a place full of spirits who can be recruited to take revenge on her live-in boyfriend, a police officer who beat her up once again. She found “a little bit of witchcraft” online that she wanted to try.

“It’s called a death march,” he says. “Utilizing spirits, energizing in highly active areas to make your offer in exchange for eternal salvation from their own purgatory.”

man caveJohn J. Caswell Jr.’s new play at the Connelly Theater is a political drama wrapped in the macabre tastes of the horror genre, and it works on both levels. Their characters are Mexican American women on the economic frontiers and their concerns are: work, love, inheritance, survival; how to be safe in their home country and how to feel at home.

Set in the congressman’s man cave (designed by Adam Rigg), with cowboy movie posters and a mounted deer head, the game is also a contemplation of what the United States is built on, what is buried beneath, and what persistent, haunted sounds. determined not to hear. (Lurecicia Briceno’s lighting is vital to the chills of our spines.)

Page 73, directed by Taylor Reynolds for the theater troupe, the show fuels a frightening mood before it even starts, thanks to Michael Costagliola’s highly intelligent sound design that rumbles ominously as the audience settles in, but falls into an unnerving silence in the opening scene. We are ready to be frightened by the slightest noise, and we are. And because the audience expects or even hopes to be frightened, their attention has a tension that persists throughout the play.

This is useful for a time-consuming show like “Man Cave” does – sometimes to the point of overdoing it. Letting friends bicker and swoon over a full weekend. Why does Rosemary (Jacqueline Guillén) want to know why Imaculada is a “cleansing house for an openly racist politician”? Is Imaculada (Annie Henk) right that something is trying to kill her? So where is his missing 20-year-old son?

Why is Rosemary’s sober girlfriend – Lupita (Claudia Acosta), her romantic refuge from the abusive police, suddenly drinking again? How gross exactly is it that Rosemary brought a bag of police nail clippings for the spell she wanted to cast? What drew him to the spirit world when it used to be his mother’s job?

Her mother, Consuelo (Socorro Santiago), an undocumented immigrant, raised Rosemary to assimilate. But when Consuelo comes to the congressman’s house, she doesn’t need anyone to tell her about her paranormal status. He has a supernatural sensitivity to the dead.

“I can hear them screaming in my head,” he says.

A program note explains that Caswell wrote “Man Cave” over the past five years – a period of enormous social and political turmoil in the United States. If the game feels bloated at times, it may be due to absorbing too much anger and anxiety in the air. But its shape also feels like an act of resistance to the constraints of the theatrical tradition.

On one wall of the man cave, next to the deer head, hangs a rack of vintage rifles with emblems of American cowboy culture. But that’s not Chekhov, and those guns will never go off. They just stand in sight, threatening silently.

man cave
At the Connelly Theater in Manhattan until April 2; page73.org. Working time: 2 hours 10 minutes.

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