Sometimes horror works best in short, self-contained stories. Such is the case with the New Ambassadors' short horror-themed play festival, FEARfest 2022, at Tada! Theater. Seven short plays deal with real and imagined horror: from a possessed hand to racial prejudice. Some are delightfully humorous (two women discuss the perks of being a werewolf), others disturbing (a girl's obsession with catching Santa Claus goes too far). Also varying from play to play is quality, as each one-act is written, directed, and acted by separate artists, and a few could still use a bit of workshopping. But the pros largely make up for the cons in this mostly-fun-with-a-side-of-unsettling program.
My favorites were "Hot Blood Sundae" and "The Hand." In the former (written by Aly Kantor), two women wait for the test results that will tell them if they're infected werewolves. As they lament the societal taboos imposed on women---don't grow body hair, don't eat too much, don't let loose--what first seems like a frightening unknown soon becomes something to be desired. After all, werewolves can eat whatever they want, don't have to shave their body hair, and are free to howl at the moon. It's sharp and funny, played with barely bridled passion by Maile Binion and Starr Kirkland.
Another killer is Erin Moughon's "The Hand." When, on Halloween night, a mysterious, psychotic spirit possesses her hand and forces her to wield a knife, a girl turns to her horror-film-obsessed roommate for help. But exorcising her roommate may lead to the exorcising of another, long-buried event that still haunts the both of them. Playing with tropes and featuring a surprise twist (of both a knife and an ending), it's an ode to classic horror that might be scary if it weren't so frighteningly hilarious.
One piece that's decidedly not hilarious is William Oliver Watkins' "Black, White, & Blue." Tonally, it seems out of place in a program that's largely made up of dark comedy and Twilight Zone-esque vignettes. But if it's misplaced in this lineup, it's no less powerful. A director coaches two men--one playing a white cop, the other a Black driver who gets pulled over--through a scene based on a transcript of an actual event. But it soon becomes clear that this scene is packed with so many layers of historical bias and racial tension that playing it through to the end may be all but life-threatening. (No joke, toward the end, things got so intense I was bracing myself to flinch.)
If some of the work is uneven in tone and quality, it's hard not to admire the artistically bold and thrillingly entertaining work New Ambassadors Theatre Company is doing. Much like their last festival, Blurring Boundaries, FEARfest 2022 is a refreshing tableau of brand new work, and for the most part, it's hard to do anything but sit back and enjoy yourself.
FEARfest 2022 has a limited engagement through Sunday, October 30th, with performances at Tada! Theater (15 West 28th St, 2nd floor). For tickets and more info, visit NewAmbassadorsTheatre.com or call 646-637-2709.