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Why are we compelled to tell scary stories? And why do we love listening to them, nerves on edge, quivering with terrible anticipation? These questions are at the center of master storyteller Mike Daisey’s eerie new solo piece, Barring the Unforeseen. Like the bars suggested by his title, tales of horror give us a manageable glimpse of the unknown and unbearable, while also holding fearful events at a safe aesthetic distance.
When we enter the theater, the auditorium is perfectly, inkily dark. Ushers with flashlights guide fumbling spectators to their seats, but the dazzling beams also heighten the disorientation. The blackness is so profound you smell the other onlookers’ cologne, and hear their murmurs, long before you see them.
Suddenly, a dangling lantern illuminates Daisey, sitting hunched at his desk, yellow legal-pad notes before him. Starting with an anecdote about an illicit séance he and some friends staged in horror writer H.P. Lovecraft’s former Brooklyn apartment—where Lovecraft lost his mind for the second time—Daisey doubles back to tease out a (maybe) true-life story about his unknowing childhood proximity to a grisly crime in bleak, cold, Maine.
This terrible incident stands in for the darkness that we can’t bear to look at head on—the horrors the mind can’t hold. During these sections, the theater is again shrouded in gloom, and Daisey’s insinuating whisper bounces disconcertingly from place to place. We get a fleeting sense of what it was like to be Lovecraft, overwhelmed by the infinite void.
Daisey is an expert raconteur, attracting hushed attention with his control of narrative momentum and subtle modulations of vocal color. His virtuosity reminds us that, like séances, theatrical performances conjure absent spirits, returning them ephemerally to life. Both forge protective circles of human connection—held together by linked hands or the circuit of speaking and listening—against the looming night outside