Todd Robbins’ Haunt Quest
Produced by The Soho Playhouse
A solo show with Todd Robbins
at The Soho Playhouse
15 Vandam Street
Todd Robbins is our host for and the only cast in Haunt Quest, a “séance play.” The evening I attended there was an audience of ten, socially-distanced on folding chairs in a bare room. This arrangement is part of the event’s idiosyncratic charm. We’re not in a show; we’re at a séance, a paranormal inquiry, with nothing so vulgar as a program.
Mr. Robbins spends most of the first half of the show addressing us. He tells us about the estate the theater’s building was built on: the former residence of Aaron Burr and John Astor. And there used to be speakeasy in the basement of this 200 year-old building.
Then our raconteur tells us about the ghost sightings. I would have liked more of this. The passage is great until he trivializes his story by telling us that the ghost responds to a shot of whisky left on the bar. And yet he expects us to take it seriously.
Mr. Robbins eschews a spirit box and moves on to “arcane retro-paranormal ghost hunting techniques,” presenting a magic square. Then things begin to get more involving as he engages a couple of audience in working a spirit glass and gives each of us a skull-head pendulum. But none of these passages episodes are developed; the first half of the event is merely preparation for the second.
There’s a sort of central climax to the event and what happened then surprised me so much that I’m not going to tell you about it. Suffice it to say that this immersive event involves us more — and becomes a lot more interesting. I’ll give you a hint, though — I half expected to see Giulietta Masina appear in the room in her tan trench coat.
Now, Mr. Robbins is nothing like Fellini’s variety show barker in Nights of Cabiria. An imposing man, he looks smashing in his three-piece black suit with the black shirt. He has nearly academic dignity, and this is what gives his address authority and gravity. Inexplicably, he imperils his dignity with a snickering off-color joke.
Todd Robbins’ Haunt Quest, then, is unique. If not entirely successful, it’s nonetheless such an interesting concept that it has its place among the fascinating oddities we find off-off-Broadway.
-- Steve Capra
July 14, 2021