Vengeful spirit seeks bloody retribution


Xavier Johnson / The Advocate

Merit Onyekwere grasps a heart in “Vengeance: A Ghost Story” on Thursday in the Knox Center

By Gabriel Quiroz, Staff Writer

Attention to detail would be an understatement when referring to the drama department’s recently closed original ghost story production of “Vengeance: A Ghost Story.”
The story, inspired by a Chinese play, recounts the life of a family of five on an annual trip that entangles a birthday with a haunted cabin.
Even before the performance began Sunday in the John and Jean Knox Performing Arts Center, every carefully placed knick-knack on stage told the story before one word was uttered.
By the looks of it, it was clear something scary was coming, but just how or why left the audience in anticipation for what might creep into their nightmares.
The ominous two-story cabin set would send much of the initial fear into audience members.
Children grasped tightly to their parents before they even knew what the ghost looked like.
However, it wasn’t all screaming in terror and fear of ghostly fiends. There were plenty of engaging, tension-filled moments.
One of the highlights was Mara, played by Silvia Sobal. She portrayed the grandmother in the story who is a very distinct and stubborn character. Throughout the play, Sobal adeptly conveys emotion, simply through manipulating her facial expressions.
Sobal’s back and forth with her on-set daughter-in-law Mary, played by Sheryl Meeuwsen, flows in a manner that makes viewers flash back to similarly awkward family interactions in their own lives.
The tension is broken up by humorous moments that lull audience members into a false sense of security.
This is before they are caught off guard by eerie music and the appearing and disappearing presence of the ghost, played by Merrit Onyekwere.
The burn of Sobal’s line, “What a noble idea,” and an eye roll to Meeuwsen creates an uproarious laughter from the crowd during their arguments over whether the ghost is real or not.
For almost every humorous scene, the laughter is quickly stolen by flickering lights and music that let the audience know it is time for a shift into a darker place.
The ghost is alone on stage when it appears, but is accompanied musically by a trio of musicians.
Erin Forman, Ninoangelo Lastimosa and Tyler Nguyen, who composed their own “environmental music” for the play, increase the ghost’s overall presence.
They accomplish this with haunting violin notes, a thunderous bass and screeching screams from keyboard strokes.
This amplifies how the ghosts stalking and coldness fills the room and gives a feeling that it could appear anywhere, even the aisles of the seats.
There are varying degrees of acting in the play. One actor joined the play just days before the production closed on Sunday, as one of the main characters was unable to attend.
John, played by Oz Herrera-Sobal, the son of Sobal (Mara, and husband of Mary), was a last-minute change to the final performance.
He was substituted into the play when Armond Lee couldn’t make Sunday’s performance.
Nobody would have known if wasn’t announced at the beginning of the play, as Herrera-Sobal flowed well with the cast after only a short time to learn his lines.
Audience members were told that there may be scripts around the set, but Herrera-Sobal didn’t seem to need them.
Giselle, played by Irena Miles, has a funny back and forth with her grandma, Mara, as they wonder if Giselle’s brother Robert and his friend Tom are gay because of their close relationship.
Robert, played by Joshua Saephan, the son of Mary and John, brings his friend Tom, played by Murfy Williams, to the cabin for what he thinks would be a fun 18th birthday.
The two seem to have a background role in the play until the ghost begins to use Tom as a vessel by possessing him.
For all the detail in the play, the ending moves a bit slow.
Mara’s back and forth with the ghost, and seemingly on the nose dialogue of what the reason was for the haunting by a ghost who suddenly could speak, seemed a little forced.
However, the entire cast managed to put on an entertaining story that scared, entertained and kept the attention of an audience of all ages.