Ghostly tale would kill to scare you

World premiere strives to induce fear, deliver surprises


Xavier Johnson

Joshua Saephan (right) and Murphy Williams (middle) attempt to hide from Merit Onyekwere (left) during rehearsal for “Vengeance: A Ghost Story” in the Knox Center on Monday.

By Jose Arebola, Staff Writer

For those looking to spend their evening in suspense and horror, the drama department’s play “Vengeance: A Ghost Story,” from playwright and director Carlos-Manuel Chavarria, promises to deliver quite the fright.

All taking place over the span of one night, an Ortize family vacation in the woods goes completely awry as a malevolent ghost joins in the fray.

“Vengeance: A Ghost Story,” which runs from October 12-21 at the John and Jean Knox Performing Arts Center, already has tickets available for purchase online for $10.

Working with an ensemble of fresh performers, Contra Costa College drama department Chairperson Chavarria produces scares like you would never expect in a live production.

He said dread slowly builds up to a free fall of sheer panic with constant twists and turns around every corner.

After seeing how well the CCC community received horror productions, Chavarria spent a year writing a ghost story he believes would truly grip audiences. One of his main inspirations is the classic Chinese drama “Snow in Midsummer,” a story of retribution in which a wrongfully murdered widow vows revenge on a small village.

He also spent some time looking at British and western horror movies citing “The Grudge” as another fun scare.

These stories all convey a type of engaging fear that only a ghost or the unnatural was able to capture. Audiences ride along in suspense as the story unfolds, but once the shocks begin to emerge they will keep viewers on the edge of their seat.

Chavarria said research was only the start of his process. Once the script was complete, the question became how well a cast would come together to recreate the written suspense on stage.

Aware of the fact that special effects carry many horror movies while the stage has its technological limits, the “Vengeance” cast and crew have worked hard to create their most captivating performance.

Any fan of horror movies will enjoy the show, especially if they are open to accepting the craft of live theater, Chavarria said. If an audience member can suspend disbelief and come with an open mind, then the cast will carry them through a terrifying thrill ride with constant surprises until the conclusion.

With so much of the enjoyment riding on the unknown, it is hoped attendees will not spoil the fun for anyone who has yet to see it once the production opens.

The technical team behind the production has lined up a few exciting surprises for horror fans. “Blood is my friend,” Chavarria said as he described how the show may not have the budget of productions like “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” but still takes inspiration from them.

The cast has been able to take his vision and adapt it to the stage in tremendous fashion. The show doesn’t have a traditional lead, but rather relies on the dynamics of the entire cast to weave its story together.

“(There is) a lot of physical blocking,” cast member Armond Lee, who plays the father of the Ortize family, said.

This is a shared sentiment of how active each actor’s role is in this production.

The cast bounces their energy off each other as they work to quickly shuffle in the dark from one spot to another during scenes. Beyond the physicality of their roles, each cast member has been preparing to channel their character’s energy.

“It’s the cast’s first time working with their director,” Irena Miles, who plays the family granddaughter, said. “That in itself gives them all a sense of camaraderie.”

Merit Onyekwere, a veteran of stage work, said she’s trying her best to create the scariest ghost vibes she can.

“The production has been an interesting and different experience,” she said.

Although most performances at the Knox Center are family-friendly, with little need for content ratings, lists “Vengeance: A Ghost Story” as a production for viewers 14 years of age and older.