In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, LIC Bar has put a Celtic twist on its monthly Fireside Ghost Stories series.
The most recent event was held in the Carriage House, a small venue with a comfy atmosphere that feels more like a ski lodge in Vermont than a back room in Long Island City. A fireplace of average size sits stage-right and is embedded in a stone panel for added effect.
The setup is modest, consisting of two orchestra stands positioned for the performers and a white taper candle flickering in the background. Actor Ali Silva stands in front of a microphone fingering through a folder of papers. She wears a black top, a flowing, black A-line skirt and lace-up wedge boots, making her look appropriately wench-like.
Concetta Abbate and Charlie Rauh, who composed and perform the musical accompaniment, sit well off to the side, plucking violin and guitar strings intermittently. Though having live music play could, in some instances, seem distracting, Silva’s voice stands strong, and together they make for an eerie atmosphere.
Nine poems and stories were read during the performance but it was the third tale, “The True Story of Killman Castle,” that was by far the scariest.
The “true accounts” comprising “Killman” tell the tale of a haunted castle that holds a rather disturbing creature referred to as “It.” The music combined with Silva’s voice creates an uneasiness in the room, one that only comes from a good scary tale.
“She described it as being human in shape, and about 4 feet high; the eyes were like two black holes in the face, and the whole figure seemed as if it were made of gray cotton-wool,” Silva read. “It was accompanied by the most appalling stench, such as would come from a decaying human body.”
Silva tells the stories well. Each character has a distinct voice and the reading is done in such a way that they remain suspenseful. She uses a perfect brogue to evoke the time period, allowing for the audience to visualize every narration.
“We use this phrase, ‘the theater of the mind,’ a lot,” Silva said. “The idea is to shut off the visual and use the ears and mind to imagine. A lot of people close their eyes to help them listen; at least that’s what I tell myself they’re doing. They could very well be sleeping.”
Aside from the half-hour prior to the audience taking their seats, there is almost no rehearsing but the spontaneity keeps the performance grounded.
Having set cues and pauses can prevent a story from sounding truthful but for a ghost story, providing a moment of truth, when an audience member can pause and think “Maybe …” is essential and cathartic.
The idea for the Fireside Ghost Stories series came about when Silva and Gustavio Rodriguez met at a mutual friend’s birthday party.
The first performance was in 2011, just before Halloween, in front of a small audience.
“At first it was just me sitting with a candle,” Silva said. “Gus would be in the back with an iPod and play music and sound effects as I went along. This whole thing has really just grown from where we were.”
Having the “gift of gab” was a well-respected talent in Ireland during the Celtic era. Bards and seanachies spent their lives committing hundreds of stories to memory and sharing the tales with those around them.
Silva’s performance, though not memorized, honors the works of W.B. Yeats, Oscar Wilde’s mother Lady Wilde, William Allingham and others by celebrating the Irish storytelling tradition.
The performance was about an hour and a half long, with a 10 minute intermission for people to refill their glasses at the bar. Special guest Pete MacNamara, performed a chilling rendition of Ray Bradbury’s story “Banshee” to conclude the evening.
Fireside Ghost Stories has its last show for the season on Sunday, April 14 at 8:30 p.m. and will return in September.
When: Sunday, April 14, 8:30 p.m.
Where: 45-58 Vernon Blvd., Long Island City
Tickets: $5 suggested donation