American Horror Stories: Three questions with Memphis actor/"Haint" playwright Justin Asher

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Justin Asher continues to distinguish himself as one of Memphis' most gifted and versatile performing artists. This weekend he's adding playwright to his list of accomplishments with staged readings of his new play Haint.

Intermission Impossible: Since this is a new work, maybe you can tell us a little about what we can expect to see?

Justin Asher: What I hope to show you is the story of a woman who holds on to the past so tightly that she can’t live in the present. Mercy, the central character, who used to be a well-known root worker and healer, now secludes herself in her home and depends on her thirty year old son, Charlie, as her only source to the outside world. But, after her son’s death she is forced to deal with life again and along the way discovers the secrets that Charlie had been keeping from her for years. After that, Charlie acting as the narrator, watches as his mother learns to trust people again and let go of the fear and anger she’d been a slave to for years.

It’s not a traditional ghost story, but rather a drama that just happens to have a ghost in it. It doesn’t try to be scary. It does however try to make you uncomfortable at moments. It’s really just a story about people as seen by a person who has passed on.

Intermission Impossible: I grew up in rural Middle Tennessee and there was a place called "Hainted Holler" so I always immediately associate that version of the word "Haunt" with isolation and more rural traditions. I'm curious as to where you picked up the word, and what images you hope it evokes even before people have experienced the play.

Justin Asher: I picked up the word “Haint” from my Granddad. He used to tell me ghost stories from back home and it just sort of stuck. This story is a rural piece which has elements of folk traditions, superstition and hoodoo. The word “Haint” brings to mind, for me, images of light blue porch ceilings and cracked mirrors hung just outside the front door. Both of which were used to keep the spirits away. I have a deep appreciation for those sorts of things. For being respectful of the world you cannot see and looking for the signs and clues it leaves out for us to find.

Intermission Impossible: We love telling ghost stories and scaring ourselves silly. As someone playing with the form, what's your take on that?

Justin Asher: I really like to be scared. I think it's the adrenaline. I think it's that feeling of knowing that you have no control over the situation, of being powerless - but can feel safe in the knowledge that once the movie is over I will be home safe and sound, on my couch with my dog in my lap. It letting absolute chaos take control of your emotions on the condition that it doesn't stay for long. Yeah, it's something like that. That's why I like it.

The reading cast for Haint includes Cecelia Wingate, Randi Sluder, Aliza Moran, Jacob Vincent, Greg Alexander Szatkowski, and Stuart Turner.

8 p.m. Friday & Saturday August 9-10. Tickets are $10.

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