Freelance journalist Kim (Samantha Soule) spends an evening with Carl (John Doman), the leader of a father and son ghost hunting team. Carl is a chauvinistic codger who thinks he knows everything about women and spirits. Yet unbeknownst to him, Kim is harboring a ghost: the vengeful presence of her dead mother lives inside her, manifesting whenever men get a touch too aggressive. Carl’s badgering brings the ghost to the surface and the consequences are violent. Weeks later, Kim has to decide if she can trust herself around Thomas (Bhavesh Patel), a boyfriend who, while different from the likes of Carl, still has the potential to unleash the vindictive matriarch that possesses her.
It takes nearly an hour for much of anything to happen in The Other Thing, but it only makes the arrival of the supernatural all the more thrilling. Ms. Soule comes alive in the second act, freed from nearly an hour of strained grinning by her mother’s entrance. She’s good as both the sheepish, repressed daughter and the domineering mother. Mr. Patel is immensely likable as Thomas. Watching his nerdy nice guy routine turn as tyrannical as the play’s more obvious bullies fills out the story nicely. For the most part, it is a thoughtful, suspenseful play.
Given all it has going for it, it’s a terrible shame that The Other Thing culminates with a didactic, repetitive, expositional monologue. It’s disappointing that a play concerned with otherworldly mysteries concludes by dispelling any and all mystery. Worse, though, than the lack of ambiguity is playwright Emily Schwend’s woefully miscalculated ending. The final speech seems like it’s meant to be an empowering rallying cry for subjugated women. We are told several times that men like Carl are unimportant and that women like Kim’s mother are coming for them. This might have been stirring stuff were it not for the fact that Kim’s mother has no compunction about permanently occupying her daughter’s body and forcing her will upon her, making her a far more intrusive presence than a rambling old sexist or a misguided lover. It’s a decision that critically undermines the frankly declared thesis of the closing speech and soils the enjoyable drama that preceded it.
The Other Thing runs through June 7th at the Tony Kiser Theater. 305 W. 43rd Street New York, NY. 2 hours. One intermission.