DEBTSA crowd of people in a small room; the doors slam shut behind you and suddenly the lights go out. The hairs on the back of your neck stand up, your skin tingles and you realize that it’s mostly strangers, alone, in the dark. The moment lasts probably for no more than 10 seconds, but the panic actually sets in at around three seconds. Seven seconds of increasingly uncomfortable hell is the only transition you need to go from amused, interested observer to tense, uncomfortable participant. Welcome to Debts.
Itsazoo Productions, the young masters of site-specific theatre (Robin Hood; Bridge Mix series), presents writer-director Mack Gordon’s hauntingly cool, existentialist horror story set in the historic Roedde House Museum. Borrowing from “teen slasher” flicks, radio dramas that went bump in the night and Edgar Allen Poe, Gordon’s story covers a lot of ground in its briskly-paced 60 minutes. On the surface, it’s about five teens who crash a wedding at a spooky house, daring each other to go inside, unaware that they probably won’t make it out alive.
But amidst the chills and thrills, the teens have got plenty of baggage of their own to deal with, most notably Annie (Kaitlin Williams) and Pete (James Avramenko), who are nursing the still-fresh wounds from their recent break-up over religious differences. The house’s evil freak-fest becomes the final testing ground for their contentious argument, which isn’t so much about good or evil but about keeping an open mind. It’s a welcome spin on traditional horror conventions, and Williams in particular conveys Annie’s terror with aplomb. The fear is a contact high because the show is so intimate — just 15 people in each audience — which the characters all navigate in and around in close quarters. This plays perfectly to Debts’ strengths: small moments filled with just the right amount of quivering tension, black humour and a ghoulish delight. To Oct. 31 at Roedde House Museum, 7pm and 9pm. $15-$19 from BrownPaperTickets.com. —Andrea Warner