Horror fans know this: Let a scary-movie franchise run on long enough, and it will slide in box-office earnings and eventually into straight-to-DVD territory, despite the initial inspiration. What’s left is a pallid, tired after-thought with a mythos so exhausted that all the convoluted twists and turns become a joyless knot. Brooke Allen’s 2008 play Ruby Wilder achieves this on the first go-round.
The thrill-less thriller introduces us to the titular heroine (Paige Sawin) in a familiar predicament: Bound to a chair and moaning in a dank basement, she’s about to be punished by a soft-spoken psychopath (a miscast, menace-free Sean Thomas). Other tropes in James D. Palmer’s production include dangling, spooky Barbie dolls; a slogging bass soundtrack; and a table full of torture-porn instruments that we know (unlike on the big screen) can’t be put to use. It’s a complication stemming from the bigger problem of attempting to stage horror in a theater. Save for the looming threat of a gunshot in Teatro Luna’s tiny Cabaret Studio, there are limitations to how high anxiety and fear can be raised.
Allen tries to circumvent the genre mismatch with conventions more familiar to the stage. Underbaked attempts include a smug meta narrator (Joshua Davis) inserting his hand in the story with Funny Games–style commentary; a heroic revenge twist; and a nonchronological plot line, which seems like an attempt to bolster the lagging script with some psychological profundity. It doesn’t.