Rumble Ghost, PS 122, New York

n this startlingly funny mash-up of group psychotherapy and the real-estate thriller Poltergeist, the focus of the horror shifts disconcertingly. Director and actor Jack Ferver uses the methods of experimental theatre to produce this slippery effect.

Rumble Ghost starts with an invented prequel to the 1982 Spielberg movie, about children with special powers and their clueless parents trapped in a ghost-plagued house. Dad Steven (Christian Coulson) and mom Diane (Ferver) are taking a tour of their soon-to-be home. They envision Carole Anne and Robbie’s room here, kids’ bathroom there and Grandma in the basement. Then they envision it again – and again in a darkly hilarious loop. The future is always dimly approaching. After 20 minutes of scene-setting, “Diane” disappears into “Jack”, the actor playing her. We are now in the present, where the problems are not ghosts but the usual disillusionments: boyfriend not hot enough, artist residency in Paris not cool enough and Jack abashed at his shocking ingratitude.

Instead of Poltergeist’s spiritual medium and paranormal psychologists, we get drama therapy. Chairs are dragged into a circle and the bossy and defensive therapist “director” (Carlye Eckert) corrals four despondent actors – now going by their real names – into taking turns describing their Inner Child. The Inner Child then retaliates by describing his Outer Adult.

The childhood memories are puny and fuzzy enough to seem true to life. So are the glib clinical terms by which the performers characterise themselves: they know all the intricacies of the therapists’ diagnostic manual, and they do not believe a word. Their issues have yet to be resolved when the stage goes black. The circle sitters’ peevishness towards this New Age-style exorcism is funny, but more bitterly funny still is Ferver and his Generation Y cohorts’ devastation at their own chronic irony. Together with Ferver’s understated sureness of touch as director and acting good enough that you hardly notice it, the oscillation between insouciance and desolation makes the show. ()

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