The latest test of Gelb and company’s creativity is a 35-minute live remake of F.W. Murnau’s silent horror film, “Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror,” with a cast of just three. And yes, in that closet. An early Theater in Quarantine production, “The 7th Voyage of Egon Tichy,” was based on a story by the great science-fiction writer Stanislaw Lem, and Scott R. Sheppard’s “Blood Meal” was a playfully unsettling tale; it is rewarding to experience the continued harvesting of genre bounties with this new play.
The show closely follows the main beats of Murnau’s masterpiece, which riffed on Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.” The story starts with the young real-estate agent, Thomas (Nick Lehane) being sent to Transylvania for a deal with the reclusive, befanged Count Orlok (Gelb). The Count follows Thomas back to his home in Germany, bringing the plague with him. Aware of the existential threat Orlok represents, Thomas’s wife, Ellen (Rosa Allegra Wolff), sacrifices herself to defeat him.
Unlike much of the movie, which was shot on location, the show, created by Gelb, Lehane and the scenographer Normandy Sherwood, makes the most of artificiality, starting with the performances, which are as mannered as they need to be — at times, the actors appear to move like puppets on strings. Playing the vampire, Gelb has the toughest role. His dark garb, pointy ears and bald pate closely emulate the actor Max Schreck’s look in the film, but he can’t quite summon Schreck’s ghoulish otherworldliness. (Then again, who could? Schreck, whose name translates as “fright,” was so eerie that a mythology has developed around him — he even was the subject of a movie, “Shadow of the Vampire,” from 2000, that imagined the actor practiced what he portrayed.)
Where this “Nosferatu” shines is in its design elements. As the title indicates, the show can be watched in 3D (the standard red and blue glasses are widely available online or may be picked up at the Skirball box office), though there is the option to watch it in a regular format. That visual device is used with parsimony, and often poetically — a bouquet of flowers is proffered — rather than for basic jump scares à la William Castle, the king of goofball gimmicks.
Overall the video work, while impressive, has less impact on the viewer’s fraying nerves than Alex Hawthorn’s sound design. Audience members are encouraged to watch on a mobile device held vertically, to preserve the closet’s shape, and use headphones, which prove to be important.