It’s easy to make fun of Scooby Doo, but that spooky Saturday morning cartoon show had one helluva message that it hammered home in episode after predictable episode: If you want to catch the real monsters, always follow the money. (And maybe the trail of empty bottles is a clue!) Justin Asher’s Haint is a Southern Gothic noir about life, death, and ghostly resurrection in the rural South, where gossip is corrosive politics, and church is a gated community separating “us” from “them.” But once you get past its hoodoo and hard boiled exterior, Haint’s got a heart that’s pure Scooby Doo. The bad guys would totally get away with it too if not for for a pair of meddling friends, who didn’t know they needed each other till they absolutely did.
Inspired by rural legends about a woman who wanders the roadsides looking for her lost son, Haint tells the story of Mercy Seer, a caustic medicine woman who whips up weed-and-seed home remedies, hangs jars full of memories on trees, and occasionally pretends to talk to spirits for the townsfolk in order to pick up a few extra bucks. She lives in a ramshackle old house on the edge of town with her son Charley, who dies midway through the show, but never goes away.
After being too long absent from the stage, Michele Somers makes an impressive return as Mercy. Her performance as the root-working conjurer, washerwoman, and mom is grounded, completely real, and a joy to watch. The former Playhouse on the Square company member swears this is her one last gig. Let's hope that's not the case.
Somers leads an able cast that includes the reliable Marques Brown as an abusive sheriff, Amy Neighbors as his frustrated wife Evangeline, and Stuart Turner as poor, doomed Charley.
JoLynn Palmer is in top form as a small town gadfly with an agenda.
Justin Asher's set is fussy, but effective and Christopher Cotten’s sound design is about one snuck-in Robert Johnson song away from being perfect.
When I first reviewed Haint in 2014 I described it is being “a good play” — something the theater needs a lot more of. It’s an even better, tighter play now, with director Cecelia Wingate's fingerprints all over it. That's true, even if the outcomes are still a little woo - Scooby Doo. Though set in the early 1950’s, threads of otherism, sexism, slut-shaming, xenophobia, and good old fashioned Christian hypocrisy resonate.