Nesting: Vacancy gets the allure of the binge-watch. When I stepped into the Shoebox Theater last Saturday to catch episodes one and two of the new serialized production, I joined an audience packed with people electing to see the show’s entire four-episode arc in a single stretch (not a bad choice for a day with 100 percent projected precipitation). Seats were saved. Seats were taken. A couple obviously on a date had to sit diagonally from one another!
There’s a lot going right in Nesting: Vacancy. For the size of the space—and the relative physical agility required to get into some of the corner riser seats—the play really works the Shoebox. The stage design is creepy as hell: a web of wooden boards fixed at eerie angles meant to suggest the rotten planks of an abandoned house. The planks are an homage to the first season of Nesting, when the stage was piled with cardboard moving boxes. I didn’t see the first Nesting season, which debuted in March 2016, so a lot of crossover between the two productions is guesswork—but I did talk to the show’s co-producer, Natalie Heikkinen, to make sure I was getting my themes right.
Heikkenen and writer/director/co-producer Joel Patrick Durham have ensured that Vacancy, along with being a heart-pumping thriller, stands on its own as a story—even as it incorporates motifs (and actors) from its first season. There’s a helpful synopsis on the Nesting website which I recommend reading before... at least the third episode. Near the end of the second episode, a blue-framed photograph of three strangers mysteriously appears, and it relates directly to the first season—which had a bad roommate meets Lynchian Mulholland Drive vibe to it. From there, knowing what happened in the first season strikes me as something of a necessity, as shit really hits the creepy hell basement in episodes three and four. Also note that this season of Nesting: Vacancy needs to be seen in order. I can’t imagine the wild fight scenes and dance numbers in the third episode making any sense unless you’ve seen the first two.
If the phrase “wild fight scenes and dance numbers” didn’t tip you off, I’ll say it plainly: All the performers in Vacancy are dazzling. The Shoebox’s intimate setting allows for up close, television-style performances (probably adding to the binge-watch feel). Isabella Buckner—who plays a runaway named Sylvia—delivers some impressive small, graceful movements that wouldn’t be visible on a larger stage. Check how she closes a door. It’s so sad! Supporting characters like the annoying, but deeply likable neighbors Judy and Steven (Hannah Edelson and David Bellis-Squires) threaten to steal the spotlight until Ryan (Ty Cozier)—the woman everyone is not-so-secretly in love with—yanks it back. Then younger runaway Cameron (Jacob Camp) loses himself in a fit of anger, and we’re right back to being flippin’ terrified in our pants.
I initially felt conflicted, wondering whether some moments when Sylvia and Cameron flash back to their childhood selves were too overstated, but I’ve decided that what’s important is that they’re reading as children, quickly and fluidly, with the only other clue being a subtle lighting change. That’s pretty impressive, and the time-jumps never lost me. As the play unfolds, we wonder if they and their friend Ryan are really being haunted by a spirit, or if they’re actually fighting demons of past episodes.