Eva Knott 4:04 a.m., May 23
Ion's known for edgy scripts and daring risks. In conversations about new plays you'll often hear someone say "that's an Ion show."
Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's one-acts, on paper and in its intimate, blackbox stage, are not Ion shows. The Filmmaker's Mystery and Ghost Children have occasional glimmers that qualify. But they're also derivative, way too talky, and, for the most part, much more languid than scary.
The playwright has hot credentials: he writes for Marvel Comics, is adapting Stephen King's The Stand, wrote for HBO's Big Love, and is working on a musical version of American Psycho with Duncan Sheik (of Spring Awakening).
Compared to these projects, the two plays look like five-finger exercises, with some fingers crossed. Aguirre-Sacasa wrote them in 2002. He's obviously improved a great deal in the last decade.
A narrator says "we are forever rushing up against an invisible world of secrets, an intangible world of mysteries." He adds that each is different from the other (well sure: a mystery's something outside a person; a secret lurks within, no?).
The Filmmaker's Mystery's the former. Joe Manning, a young gay movie director, somehow avoids a train crash that killed 57 others, among them Nathan West - after Nathaniel, author of Day of the Locust? They shared an attraction, or did they? Driven to discover why he was spared, Joe learns vague metaphysical causes that, with one exception, sound like standard souls/heaven/hell fare.
The exceptions' an eerie notion of "sin-eating," which the author should have developed more.
Ghost Children adds a wrinkle to the traditional axe-murderer profile. Young Ben has enough rage for all of Southern Oregon. But when he killed his family, did sister Abby abet the crime? She goes to Medford to try to forgive him. But can she - gulp - forgive herself?
Even though long narrations dominate both plays, dulling the pace and suspense, a crack production might have salvaged them, or at least the first one. Ghost Children would have trouble passing Playwrihting 1A.
Karin Filijan's expert lighting, combined with piped in fog, sets the scene for the invisible/intangible.
Except for performances by Nick Kennedy (who gives Ben a George W. Bush accent), John Polak (various roles), and Sherri Allen as a Hollywood agent, the acting is stilted. Most deliveries, the two narrators in particular, stay on the same level. Others waver between speech and recitation.