Something happens when you strip away the visual layer from the theatrical experience to reveal the essence of basic storytelling in audio. I was surprised by how realistic, immersive, and enjoyable the audio format can be. When all the design elements come together as what happens with Girls’ Night (with Spirits), it’s actually quite delightful. This second production from Welders 3.0, an audio play, or radio drama, is about a woman who believes that her home is being haunted.
A young Black woman, Rey, has taken off from her stressful job to deal with unexplained disturbances at her house. As a last resort and at her wit’s end, Rey consults a “paranormal expert,” Estelle, who shows up with a bag of tricks and the ghostly twists and turns begin. The voices surrounding Rey start with her dear Grandma, beautifully intoned by Lolita Marie, offering guidance and loving support. Karen Elle portrays a frazzled Rey, trying hard to keep everything together while dealing with noisy rambunctious spirits that could even reach out and pinch her when they got riled up. You can almost visualize a turbaned caftan-wearing swagger of ghost-whisperer Alverneq Lindsay as Estelle who sashays in with soothing tones and sometimes salty language as she assesses the situation. Rounding out the ensemble are Sophia Early as the sad abandoned spirit and others who are more bass-toned and menacing.
Playwright Teshonne Powell infuses fun twists in the script from the very beginning and throughout. For example, Estelle was summoned to help “fix” the ghost problem, but she’s got spirit baggage of her own. The innocent waif-like spirit urges Rey to banish Estelle from the house. Also, why does Estelle start choking when Rey burns sage to chase out demons? Powell keeps you guessing while the floorboards creak and chills suddenly blast from nowhere then disappear.
The story is perfectly timed for creepy-crawly Halloween. At the same time, more than a ghost story, Girls Night dips into interesting terrain of self-awareness, suppressed memories, shame, and guilt that can percolate up and wreak havoc in one’s life. Rey has been unable to admit that the emotional turmoil she experienced the previous year has not been resolved. She’s also unwilling to recognize her own special gifts of perception that she wishes would just go away.
Estelle, who is supposedly the spirit emissary, ends up asking more questions than she answers from the sidelines while Rey takes the crucial steps of facing painful experiences and excavating her past to finally put it behind her and move forward. As an inadvertent coach Estelle relays valuable advice: “A gift like this isn’t about you — it’s about those who need you.”
The fine work of director Ayesis Clay comes through in the exquisite pacing and dialog as the characters, both worldly and otherwise, engage in rapid-fire dialog, gasps, and reactions. The piece was enhanced by periodic animation of a telepone call or running faucet, and sound design by Cresent Haynes was superb with creaking and slamming doors, approaching or receding footsteps, and hollowed-out voices.
An underlying message along the edges of the play is the consideration of “mental health” issues. Powell penetrates psychic layers and brings mental and emotional health and well-being to light. Rather than retread familiar conventional “ghost-busting,” she exposes often unspoken territory acknowledging the effects and consequences of emotional wounds and offers a way through, covering serious issues with a hauntingly effective playful touch.
As Powell shares in an interview, “The story carries themes like sisterhood, empowerment, and finding one’s strength to solve her own problems by centering herself. I want to explore what’s truly possible for Black women.”
So, with or without dimmed lights, vino in hand, candles and sage burning, and a kindred spirit nearby to squeeze during jolting bumps, Girls’ Night (with Spirits) is a good time — catch while available.
Running Time: 68 minutes.
Girls’ Night (with Spirits), an audio play by Teshonne Powell presented by The Welders, will be available to stream on-demand through November 5, 2021. Tickets ($25 per device) may be purchased online.
SEE ALSO: Teshonne Powell on terror and healing in the lives of Black women interview feature by Gregory Ford
CREDITS: Girls’ Night (with Spirits)
Rey: Karen Elle
Averneq: Lindsay Estelle
Sad Spirit: Sophia Early
Grandmama: Lolita Marie
Playwright: Teshonne Powell
Director: Ayesis Clay
Sound Designer: Cresent Haynes
Stage Manager: Keta Newborn