It’s the chilling, well-timed scream that makes you jump out of your seat and into the arms of your neighbor. It occurs periodically throughout “2:22 – A Ghost Story” when you least expect it, usually in conjunction with a sudden darkening of the stage except for a bright red border around the set that suggests the house depicted may be very haunted indeed.
Written by Danny Robins and directed by Matthew Dunster, “2:22 – A Ghost Story” is a mystery at heart, despite its creepy effects. Who is the ghost? What are the ghost’s motives? Or maybe there is no ghost but just a lot of red herrings. You won’t know for most of the play. And then you will—and it’s the most satisfying ending of a ghost story you may ever experience, though it may take talking about it on the drive home to appreciate its ingenuity.
The first act begins benignly enough, unfolding almost like a sitcom—except for that unnerving scream. Jenny (an energetic Constance Wu) is painting the door frame of her and Sam’s living room in an old Boston house they are renovating, having recently moved in. She is sipping wine but starts chugging it when she notices the digital clock above the doorframe indicating 2:20, then 2:21, then 2:22, when—you guessed it—there’s a terrifying scream.
But the next day, friends are over. Lauren (Anna Camp), a psychologist with a drinking problem, and her slightly older boyfriend Ben (Adam Rothenberg)—who was born and raised in the same Boston neighborhood before it became gentrified—join Jenny and Sam (Finn Wittrock) for a risotto dinner. All very normal, though with a lot of tense swearing.
Jenny and Sam’s baby is asleep upstairs, though we sense she is vulnerable as hell despite the baby monitor. Downstairs, meanwhile, there is a lot of drinking and talking about babies—especially after Ben notices from outside that the nursery window is wide open.
Tension among the four escalates from there, fueled by suspense over the mysterious disembodied footsteps Jenny heard every night in the baby’s room while Sam was away—at exactly 2:22 a.m. The four vow to stay up until 2:22 to verify Jenny’s story, with Sam the most scientifically skeptical, though he is willing to join Ben on a booze run to replenish supplies.
As they drink and wait, Jenny describes the old lady who lived for decades in the house before she and Sam, treasuring the memory of her dead husband. Ben shares details about his upbringing that, yes, involved ghosts. And Lauren’s fixation on Sam left over from their college days becomes increasingly apparent in between frightening moments.
The second act is decidedly scarier, with supernatural turns—or rather, strange things start to happen that can be logically explained, as Sam insists—as the digital clock gets ever closer to 2:22. To say more would be giving away the fun, and fun it is, even though scary, thanks to the constant repartee and frictions among the four.
Wittrock shines as talkative, quick-witted, sometimes acerbic Sam, holding his ground against the others in maintaining that nothing is wrong with the house, least of all a ghost. He and believer Ben call each other “Bud” with increasing testiness as the night goes on, with Rothenberg capturing Ben’s rough yet relatively mature composure, even as he zings one-liners.
And Wu plays Jenny feistily, capturing a new mom’s protectiveness and frustration at her husband's indifference to her concern. Contrasting her is Lauren’s relative free-spiritedness (no pun intended), which Camp conveys naturally, sashaying uninhibitedly as she drinks, swallowing pills when no one’s looking.
The four actors maintain a fluid dynamic as they move about the stage engaging each other both humorously and heatedly, occasionally throwing and breaking household objects—which also seem to move themselves sometimes.
The set is spacious (designed by Anna Fleischle), featuring high walls with old wallpaper yet to be peeled, a renovated kitchen, cozy living room, and a weirdly ominous sliding glass door at the back. While the openness works visually, it seems to affect acoustics sometimes, making it hard to hear dialogue, especially at the beginning of each act.
But if you like ghost stories, you will appreciate experiencing “2:22 – A Ghost Story” as live theatre, where you can viscerally feel the screams and suspense. And if you’re not into scariness, you can still marvel at the mystery created through sharp dialogue, aided by atmospheric lighting (Lucy Carter and Sean Gleason) and unsettling sound effects (Ian Dickinson)—and yes, you’ll delight in reconstructing the whodunit all the way home.
“2:22 – A Ghost Story”continues at Center Theatre Group’s Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, through Dec. 4, with performances Tuesdays through Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Tickets start at $40 and can be purchased by calling the box office at (213) 628-2772 or visiting CenterTheatreGroup.org. Run time is 2 hours, with intermission. Masks are optional.