Urbanite Theatre’s “A Skeptic and a Bruja” Aims for Chills and Thrills

Do you like a good ghost story? Most people seem to, certainly enough to keep “ghost-hunting” or paranormal TV shows going. That’s the starting point for A Skeptic and a Bruja, now onstage at Urbanite Theatre.

Priscilla (Lorinda Hawkins Smith) has called upon the team of the show title, skeptic Sam (Mercedes White) and “bruja” (or “witch” in simplified terms) Jess (Alisha Espinosa), joined by Jess’s cousin and tech support Remy (Jen Diaz). Priscilla recently acquired an old house in the middle of nowhere, hoping to turn it into a lucrative B&B. But mysterious noises, flickering lights, pictures falling off the walls and other phenomena are driving her near the breaking point. So she’s hopeful that Sam and Jess can solve her problems. Meanwhile, Sam is all about the YouTube comments their filming might get; and Jess, who sees and hears spirits all around her, is earnestly seeking to lay to rest any troubled souls, while Remy is coming to terms with the recent loss of her mother.

But Remy’s loss isn’t the only one haunting these four characters. Priscilla’s late girlfriend, Liz, is a constant presence, and even the tough-talking Sam eventually admits to regret about not visiting her grandmother before she passed. All of these women, then, have their own ghosts, let alone those this house with a gruesome past may hold. And then there’s that eerie room upstairs filled with dolls…

This world premiere play by Rosa Fernandez (in collaboration with freeFall Theatre) sets up a promising premise, and keeps the audience sufficiently interested to fall in with the eventual need for an exorcism of sorts. After all, it’s fun to see and hear the special effects the production requires, and Fernandez offers a pretty good blend of comedy and drama here.

The four actors play off each other nicely, with Smith, her Priscilla warm but nervous at first, and Espinosa, convincing in Jess’s religious beliefs, coming off as the most polished performers. Jeff Weber’s set of the would-be B&B’s living room feels authentic, and Joseph Oshry’s lighting design contributes much to the mood.

But the climax of A Skeptic and a Bruja doesn’t quite deliver as hoped. It feels abrupt and somewhat unearned. Undoubtedly, as the play moves farther along in upcoming productions, it may receive tweaking and shaping that could resolve that problem.

In the meantime, A Skeptic and a Bruja gives some intriguing women characters of color a chance to tell their stories. The play continues at Urbanite through May 1; for tickets, call (941) 321-1397 or go to urbanitetheatre.com.