The lightweight, needlessly confusing plot centers around the efforts of the broke, single and pregnant, 43-year-old Jill to sell a rundown Virginia mansion that she has inherited from her mother's cousin. Jill works as a bartender, and wants to open her own cafι in the Big Apple. Her real estate agent Carlene Brooks has hired a "ghost remover" to exorcise the house. Although Carlene claims that the buyer, "Mr. Warner," insists on the exorcism, it is she who has spread the rumors of "ghosts" in order to thwart the sale and cause Jill to lose the mansion for non-payment of taxes. Carlene and her daughter Caroline (who has come up from Dallas for the occasion) want revenge on Jill for "stealing" Caroline's prom date 26 years ago. Arriving with Caroline are her brother Kelvin, a pot smoking, environmentalist hippie, and his companion, Becky. Trying to climb back into bed with the resistant Jill is BJ, who is the married father of Jill's unborn child and a pretentious director of slasher porn films. We learn later that the deranged Becky has escaped from a sanitarium and that she is the wealthy wife of BJ, whose films she finances, and that BJ and the "Mr. Warner" who is buying the house are the same person.
And, yes, the house is haunted by an eighty years dead brother and sister act. The brother is the peripatetic, frightened ghost Henry, who cares for the house which he loves and doesn't want to ever leave. Henry is lonely because his mostly silent dead sister, the ethereal Ruby (although Henry tells us that it is her off-stage piercing screams which we hear), won't see or forgive him because he drove his car into a ditch killing them both. Lastly, there is Miguel, the suave and creepy "ghost remover." He is sometimes the Devil and, at other times, Ralph Miller, a baseball player. His devilish exit line is "I have to go. I'm having an old friend for dinner." Can Manuel exorcise the ghosts? How are the relationships and situations among the living resolved? What is the fate of the mansion? The answers await on stage at Dreamcatcher.
Author Bradbeer tosses in elements from such haunted house film comedies as The Cat and the Canary and The Ghost Breakers with a just wee bit of the sentiment of The Uninvited, the 1944 haunted house beauty. The only question worth answering is, "Is it funny?." And the sad answer is, "for the most part, no." There is no attempt at consistency of character and, thus, the audience can neither relate to nor sympathize with anyone on stage. You Miss Them When They're Not Around plays more like an improvisational sketch than a realized play. However, an improv sketch has more spontaneity, and changes with every performance. You can almost see the readings and rehearsals during which the contributing company members would volunteer, wouldn't it be funny if I was afraid of this?, or if I turned out to be that?, or if I did this bit?
Harry Patrick Christian comes off best as ghost brother Henry. Reaching into his delightful bag of tricks, he performs what amounts to a series of funny solo routines which are peripheral to the story such as it is. Janet Sales' Jill is essentially a straight, dramatic role, around which the company plays off. Clark Carmichael plays off Sales especially well as the smarmy BJ. Scott McGowan is suave and stylish as Manuel.
The always superb Harriet Trangucci is relegated to several mostly angry lines in the underwritten role of Caroline. Ghost sister Ruby fails to provide the sparkling Laura Ekstrand anything interesting with which to work. Noreen Farley as Carlene works hard in an effort to punch across material which mostly falls flat. Jenna Kalinowski (Becky) and David Miceli (Kelvin) provide solid support.
Despite her excellent cast, Director Linda Ames Key has not been able to mold the script of You Miss Them When They're Not Around into satisfying theatre.
You Miss Them When They're Not Around continues performances (Fridays & Saturdays 8 p.m./ Sun. 2 p.m.) through November 16, 2008 at the Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre at the Baird Center, 5 Mead Street, South Orange, NJ 07079. Box Office:973-378-7754, ext.2228; online: www.dreamcatcherrep.org.
You Miss Them When They're Not Around by Suzanne Bradbeer; directed by Linda Ames Key