Review: “The Vengeance Room” at the Kraine Theatre

Anthony Piccione

When done correctly, horror stories can often be an intense and thrilling ride for the audience, which you won’t forget anytime soon. Yet for many of us, myself included, it often feels like an overlooked genre in theatre, as opposed to the endless amount of horror you’ll find in film. However, The Vengeance Room – a new one-act play being presented at this year’s FRIGID New York Festival – is bound to be a breath of fresh air, for anyone who feels that way.

Written by Michael Hagins and produced by Step1 Theatre Project, the plot revolves around the absurdist concept – one which almost feels reminiscent of Samuel Beckett – of five people stuck in a room together with no memory of themselves, only one letter each as their supposed name, and a variety of weapons – including a gun and knife and sword – to use against each other. Over the course of the play, the levels of animosity the characters have toward each other builds up, ultimately leading toward an unexpected climax.

At first, the play’s concept reminded me somewhat of the first Saw movie, in that it was about strangers being mysteriously trapped in a room and forced to suffer over the course of the story. The difference here, though, is that rather than physical torture (although there are some gory moments in the play), it is psychological torture – where one is trapped without a sense of oneself or each other – that makes this play a highly gripping experience, and a huge step above not just the Saw franchise, but also many other stories in this genre. Indeed, it felt like what an avant-garde playwright’s take on the modern horror flick would be, if given the opportunity, and that’s what personally fascinated me about this piece.

Under the direction of Janelle Zapata, the play is staged wonderfully, and the cast – consisting of Michael Mena, Ariel Leigh, Ashley Lauren Rogers, Kat Moreno and Mateo Moreno – does a fine job at bringing it to life. When dealing with a minimalistic setting, as many festival shows do, it requires both a good script and a strong creative team to deliver the right emotions to the audience, so that it will be a memorable theatrical experience, and this production succeeds at doing exactly that.

If I were to judge the show based on the play itself (not that I had any issues with any of the actors), than I would easily rank this among the best plays I’ve seen in 2018 thus far, due to its ability to make old concepts still feel original, and for keeping this theatergoer constantly focused and wondering how it would end. It will certainly be interesting to see what the future may have in store for this play, after its run at the FRIGID Festival ends. For now, however, if you’re looking for a dark thriller that will keep you engaged and on the edge of your seat, be sure to check it out during its current festival run.

“The Vengeance Room” – presented by Step1 Theatre Project as part of the 2018 FRIGID Festival – runs at the Kraine Theatre from February 15th to March 4th. For more information, please visit www.step1theatreproject.org.