It’s a toss-up for me between the floating torso with a desk lamp for a head and the disembodied hand holding, improbably, a whisk. These are a few of the evil, cunningly devised puppets ghouling it up at this Rough House Theater show, a hybrid haunted house and wordless play. Entering deranged architect Milton Harrow’s studio through the basement at the Chopin, we are greeted by his creations. Displays along the walls (no touching, please, except where you see a “touch me” sign) show his unfulfilled plans for an ideal society, from scale models of bleak fortresses to a cassette tape playing his spooky dicta on an endless loop. Harrow House’s lampshades strongly resemble Frank Lloyd Wright’s—and a very Prairie School Halloween to you too! Suddenly, from around the corner, or down at your feet, comes a squawk, a scraping fingernail, a screaming face. These sad monstrosities, their amazing puppet features designed by Grace Needlman, are the failed results of Harrow’s human experiments. And here they are doomed to writhe for all eternity—or for 45 minutes, anyway.
I don’t think anyone goes to acting school expecting to one day be the black-clad operator of a severed hand puppet, but there you go. If you are able to look past the dude or pair of dudes piloting the appendage across the room, the atmosphere—labyrinthine partitions, Corey Smith’s vicious sound design—will momentarily take over. I only ever got the illusion to last that long, though. Mike Oleon directs. v