Courtney Lawson, left, and Kelly Mullins will perform in the suspense thriller “Spider Island.”
ALBANY, Ga. — Halloween’s Wednesday, but the real chills will start Thursday night when Theatre Albany raises the curtain on the second play in its 80th season — “Spider Island.”
The name may evoke thoughts of sci-fi horror movies or even a certain web-slinging comic book superhero, but the play, written in 1942, has nothing to do with any of that. It’s a classic mystery thriller in which the suspense comes not from gory details, but from atmosphere, mood, lighting and implications.
“I hope audiences will have fun, because that’s what it’s intended for,” Theatre Albany Artistic Director Mark Costello said Wednesday. “It’s not there to gross you out or anything like that. It’s to keep you guessing. I think that’s the appeal for thrillers.
“Several of our patrons had been asking me, ‘When are you going to do a mystery?’ So, I made it a point of looking for some scripts to do and I thought, ‘This should be fun.’ And it is.”
Set in October in an abandoned lighthouse located on Spider Island, which is isolated by six miles of ocean between it and the Maine shore, the cast includes two spinster sisters: Abbie Mayo (played by Kathleen Stroup) and Salem Mayo (Diane Lamb).
“The only other person they have with them is their maid, cook and whatever, Dullie (Abby Evans), who’s actually a granddaughter of one of the people who’s deceased,” Costello said. “Then there’s this old hag, Meg Crosby (Vickie Lewis), who comes over to the island.”
Crosby and the Mayo sisters have a longstanding hatred over general animosity, possible gold “and the death of the sisters’ brother. The fact that he was murdered — and who exactly murdered him — comes into question.”
The final two characters in the all-female cast are young Star Mayo (Kelly Mullins) and her friend, Pat Casey (Courtney Lawson). Star, the daughter of a second Mayo brother, North, who disappeared years earlier when he was shanghied, was unaware of the island and her aunts until after her father died and she learned she had inherited the island. She and her friend travel from Ohio to inspect the property.
Meanwhile, Abbie, who’s described as “a little bit pixilated,” is convinced their dead brother Daniel is living above them in the lighthouse, a delusion that Salem oddly encourages.
“Suddenly,” Costello said, “there becomes a lot of questions about events of the past and whether there is actually somebody living up in the lighthouse.
“It’s a cat-and-mouse sort of plot until everything is revealed at the end. And it’s got lots of jumps and bumps.”
The intricate plot was likely the inspiration for the name, though there is a reference to an abundance of spiders that populate the small island during the warmer months. “I think probably it’s just a web of all these characters, of lies, deceits and secrets,” Costello said. “I think that’s where the author came up with ‘Spider Island.’”
WHO: Theatre Albany
WHAT: A mystery thriller set in an abandoned lighthouse six miles off the New England shore
WHEN: 8 p.m. Nov. 1-3 and 8-10; 2:30 p.m. Nov. 4 and 11
WHERE: Theatre Albany, 514 Pine Ave.
CAST: Kathleen Stroup (Abbie Mayo), Diane Land (Salem Mayo), Abby Evans (Dullie Peabody), Vickie Lewis (Meg Crosby), Kelly Mullins (Star Mayo) and Courtney Lawson (Pat Casey)
DIRECTOR: Mark Costello
TICKETS: $20, adults; $15, seniors; $10, students and active military
BOX OFFICE: (229) 439-7141. Box office opens noon-4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; noon-2 p.m. Saturday; one hour before curtain
Those who have had a chance to catch a rehearsal have been impressed.
“My makeup crew watched Sunday night and they were, ‘Are you going to have the EMTs here?’” Costello said. “I said, ‘I don’t think so.’ It’s truly a thriller. It’s suspenseful. There are scary moments, but there’s nothing that’s gory. They talk about the death of Daniel. And there’s an axe that plays a part, a prop that’s a very strong symbol in the show.”
The axe is center stage, in fact, on the wall of the lighthouse living quarters, an object that immediately draws attention from the stone walls. Set in the late afternoon and into the evening, the lighting, shadows and sounds combine to make the setting almost a character in itself.
“When we do the stage lighting for the show, it pretty much has to be dim because the only light sources in the house portion of the lighthouse is a fireplace and an old lantern,” Costello said. “They have no electricity. That adds to the atmosphere.”
It plays on the elegance of films and productions that rely on character, lighting, plot and setting — rather than special effects — to make the suspense real for the audience.
“I’ve always been a fan of mysteries and thrillers,” Costello said. “I’m not a fan of the ‘Jason’ and ‘Halloween’ movies. I’d rather you keep me guessing and on the edge of my seat.
“I was telling some of the younger cast members, there’s this old film with Vincent Price called ‘The House on Haunted Hill’ — the first one, not the remake they did. There are moments in there that are still very scary. It’s all done in black and white and done with shadows. No gross or anything like that. Gives you goosebumps.”
The stage lights will help “create it to give it the right feel,” Costello said. “It will be a challenge. And, of course, you have to pick your color gels that reflect candlelight and firelight, so there’s more amber, and you have your blues and so forth” as the time on stage progresses from late afternoon into the evening.
Adding to the sense of isolation — the only usual visitor is a man who rows to the island each week with supplies for the sisters — is a constant wind in the background.
“There’s supposed to be continuing wind throughout, and there are moments when they’ll be opening the door and it’ll get a little louder,” Costello said. “It’s an ever-present quality to it that adds to the isolation. Six miles over open ocean — that’s a long, long way. ... You’re stuck there.”
Getting the right feel was a primary reason the production — originally scheduled to start last week — was pushed back a week. Costello said there were some conflicts in getting those involved in the production together and the time was needed to ensure that the cast and directors had enough reheasral time to get the scenes just right.
“There are a lot of nuances and innuendoes that you have to concentrate on in order to keep the suspense going,” he said.
The curtain goes up at 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 4. The final four performances will be at 8 p.m. Nov. 8-10 and at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 11. Tickets are $20, adults; $15, seniors, and $10, students and active military.
The box office is open noon-2 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, noon-2 p.m. Saturdays and one hour before curtain. The theater is located at 514 Pine Ave. Contact the box office at (229) 439-7141.