Behind the Screams

| 11 Nov 2014 | 02:10

      EVERY BUILDING ON the Lower East Side has a nasty doorman, but Richard Jordan is in a class all his own. If you’ve ever tried to enter his establishment, a building on the corner of Rivington and Suffolk streets, you’ve probably been treated to his special greeting; Jordan welcomes guests by stalking around the building’s lobby and hissing as he pounces on them, his head clad in a stocking. He is, after all, the welcome wagon at Nightmare, the largest haunted house in the entire country.

    Outfitted with more costumed actors than animatronics, the five-year-old attraction isn’t any old spook shack, and players like Jordan, a veteran of the Metropolitan Opera’s 2005 production of Aida, and about 24 other actors, go a long way to bring the sick vision of the house’s creator,Timothy Haskell, to life. Though he’s very serious about frightening his customers—Nightmare’s rooms are constructed based on the results of a survey of people’s worst, well, nightmares—camp comes just as easily to Haskell, who previously worked several off-Broadway adaptations of iconic 1980s trash. He first brought the curtain up on his house in 2004, a year after he directed a stage adaptation of the kitsch classic Roadhouse and a year before he struck again with Fatal Attraction: A Greek Tragedy.

    To Haskell, separating camp and chills is a big mistake. “It’s harder to do anything that has to do with the fantastic straight up,” Haskell says. “I tell my actors all the time that if they’re going to try to jump out at someone and scare them, don’t linger—the thought process is ‘You’re very real and very harmless.’

    It’s so easy to see the artifice of it all.” In fact, keeping contact with visitors to a minimum allows Haskell to add suspense to the performance and keep reality to a minimum. “You can go silly and campy, which I think I do plenty of times in the haunted house,” he continues, “or you can go for reality the entire time, where you can’t have them touch you or grab you or do anything real. By virtue of that, you can either be

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