GENRE: Theater/Dark humor
GROUP: Jeffrey Stanley
ATTENDED: Sun., Sept. 8, 2 p.m., Shivtei Yeshuron-Ezras Israel
CLOSES: Wed., Sept. 18
BRIEF SELF-DESCRIPTION: “This true to life romp resurrects the cadaverous -- from Philly’s Laurel Hill Cemetery to a British colonial graveyard in India to ancient Greek tomb worshippers. Paranormal activity guaranteed.”
WE THINK: With its penchant for the paranormal and its autobiographical focus, Jeffrey Stanley’s one-man show could come across as overly strange or egotistical, but his charisma and fascinating tales from the crypt kept it on track. Staged in a musty, 118-year-old cellar in Shivtei Yeshuron-Ezras Israel, a historic South Philly synagogue, the show began with Stanley performing George Jones’ country hit “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” which, his tender rendition revealed, is a lovelier song than I had originally thought. But we in the audience weren’t sitting in a damp cellar, squinting our light-deprived eyes at a barefooted man with a painted face to get a lesson in music appreciation. We were here for a taste of the macabre, and Stanley didn’t disappoint.
Following the song, he abruptly launched into a brisk spiel, musing on visits to Laurel Hill Cemetery, reminiscing on his childhood in rural Virginia where he lived next to a funeral home and lecturing on sadhus, living saints in India who renounce all earthly possessions and register with the government as being dead. His intelligent ramblings made me feel like I'd cracked open the head of a loony professor amped up on speed, and out spewed astute but seemingly unconnected observations. (Among the digressions were allusions to his deadbeat father and a cross-dressing hillbilly neighbor named Doodlebug.) And then, as if taking a break for water, he played another country tune (Mississippi John Hurt’s “Angels Laid Him Away”), causing me to wonder, “Is he just free associating?” Eerily, a few seconds after that thought passed through my mind, Stanley emphasized that he was not free associating.
Then things got even weirder. Stanley asked for volunteers, situated them around a Ouija board and proceeded to conduct a séance. Not much happened, or as he rationalized it, the spirits seemed "reluctant to speak." In tandem, he fiddled with a radio to capture communications from beyond, but the audience had become skeptical, with some eyeing the exit. Up until this point, Stanley had my full attention, but I too became impatient.
A day after the performance, I received an email with the Electronic Voice Phenomenon recording attached. What did the spirits have to say about Stanley's opening show? As he interpreted it, one told him to go to hell, while another said, “I almost cried.” The dead gave mixed reviews and so did the living.
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