It's a dark and stormy night when Max and Henry wreck their car in the mountains and seek aid at a nearby cabin inhabited by a brusque woman and five odd children. Max and Henry don't know it, but the Broadway audience at Grey House does: Things are about to get creepy. The play may be scary but the mood was joyful at the opening night of Grey House May 30, which marked the first Broadway show of the 2023-24 season.
Chicago playwright Levi Holloway makes his Main Stem debut with the new play, which sits somewhere between psychological thriller and horror on the spookometer. "Horror in film or on screen rather, you can really control the audience's eye. Right? And there's a type of manipulation in. In theatre, you have to work hard to control the audience's eye. It's very difficult. You have to be a little more thoughtful of how to pull it off," says Holloway to Playbill on the red carpet. "I say hide everything in plain sight. I don't believe in tricking the audience at all."
Grey House officially opened May 30 at the Lyceum Theatre. Tatiana Maslany and Paul Sparks star as Max and Henry, respectively, although Maslany was out on opening night due to a COVID diagnosis. To that end, reviews are being held until June 1 to allow for critics to attend a performance with the full company. Two-time Tony winner Laurie Metcalf is Raleigh, a house-mother of sorts to the group of "mountain girls," plus one silent boy. Joe Mantello directs, crafting moments of suspense, mystery, and fright in a genre not often seen onstage.
Tony-winning scenic designer Scott Pask (who is twice-nominated this season for Shucked and Some Like It Hot) was tasked with creating the visual atmosphere of Grey House. The literal setting is a cabin in the woods in 1977, but the design hints at an otherworldliness, shrouded in grey webs and roots—as if the house exists in a liminal space between this world and an afterlife. "The house is a character and that was a place to start that I loved. And that was very clear from the beginning. The house is a character," says Pask, adding that the darkness of the haunted Lyceum Theatre was helpful for the staging!
Grey House is an incredibly layered story, though. As the house itself seems to live in-between spaces, so does the tone of the play shift. It's actually very funny. "Usually scares have a laugh after them," Metcalf points out. "You're never quite sure when it's gonna go dark. And then it gets light again. Then we're back...It's a fun ride that way."
Holloway says there's actually a commonality between horror and humor: "I think it has something to do with the release of tension. Laughter comes from this kind of tickling honest place that is almost guttural. It just happens because you need it to. The audience is wound so tight. I love writing little valve releases into the show that just lets them just breathe just for a second."
Grey House may be scary, but sometimes, real life is scarier. We asked the cast and opening night attendees to name what's scarier: 0 likes on Instagram or bad reviews? See their answers below and scroll down for more opening night reflections.
The ensemble cast boasts a list of extraordinarily talented young women: Sophia Anne Caruso as Marlow, the eldest of the girls who steps in as mother when Raleigh is not present; Colby Kipnes, the near-feral Squirrel; Alyssa Emily Marvin, the forthright A1656; and Millicent Simmonds, the supernaturally-gifted Bernie. Eamon Patrick O’Connell is The Boy and Cyndi Coyne is The Ancient.
"I have never felt so supported by a cast," says Sparks, a self-professed "dyed-in-the-wool downtown guy" making one of his rare trips uptown to Broadway. "One of the concerns I had initially was like, 'oh, there's some really young kids in this show who have to do some really heavy lifting.' But they have been there. They're such professionals, and you feel safe on stage with them. And this is not an easy script. Levi wrote a really technical thing. And they're all doing it. They have so many moments that they have to author and engineer all on their own and they're just wonderful."
Still, with all the spookiness and the jump scares, Grey House is ultimately a story about a group of young women seeking a home, seeking trust. "It's a beautiful play about so much more than gore or death—it's some heavy stuff, but beautiful things," says Caruso, who admits that sometimes after a matinee, she'll walk around and eavesdrop as audiences leave the theatre. "People say, 'I have never seen anything like that.' And I love that."
Take a look through the gallery below at some of the red carpet arrivals for opening night of Grey House.
Costume design for Grey House is by Emmy nominee Rudy Mance, lighting design by seven-time Tony winner Natasha Katz, sound design by Tony nominee Tom Gibbons, hair and wig design by katie Gell and Robert Pickens, makeup design by Christina Grant, associate direction by Logan Reed, voice coaching by Gigi Buffington, musical supervision and a cappella arrangements by Obie winner Or Matias, movement by Ellenore Scott, casting by David Caparelliotis and Joseph Gery, and general management by Foresight Theatrical. In a rare move, Andrew Morrill is the production's director of artistic sign language.
Production stage management is handled by Juniper Street Productions, with William Joseph Barnes serving as production stage manager and Michael Altbaum serving as company manager. General management is by Foresight Theatrical Lane Marsh. Grey House is produced by Tom Kirdahy and Robert Ahrens.