Though it’s not the usual sort of ghost tale you’d expect to see this time of year, “We Live Here” will certainly give you chills — for the first act, at least. A family of writers, musicians and artists is haunted by a past tragedy when its members come together in their lovely upper-middle-class home in rural New England. The warmth and joy of one daughter’s impending wedding is overshadowed when her sister brings home an unexpected guest who stirs up buried memories.

The Bateman home is a feast for the eyes, bringing surprising depth to Manhattan Theatre Club’s New York City Center basement stage, which often skews flat; however, the sumptuous decor and layered rooms are underutilized. The dialogue is smart, nuanced to suit each personality. And the cast conspires to push past any of the script’s other limitations, breathing believability into sometimes implausible actions. However, it’s hard to recall that characters still exist once they’re off the stage or silent — as if they only come alive through their complex reactions to each other. This is especially problematic due to the fact that one of the main characters is never actually seen.

The play builds tension in an everyday setting with intriguing, slightly “off” moments. We know the characters have flaws behind their affable social veneers, and it’s riveting to try and figure them out — especially with regard to an alluded former “accident.” But the delicious anticipation burns itself out during intermission, and a super-short second act feels half-cocked. The post-climactic payout threatens to leave the audience and characters in the same predicament — disengaged.

Who lives there?

 

The story takes place at the home of nearly manic matriarch Maggie (Amy Irving) and passively intellectual dad Lawrence (Mark Blum). Daughter Dinah (Betty Gilpin) returns from college for the weekend to see her sister Althea (Jessica Collins) marry Sandy (Jeremy Shamos). And her date to the event is none other than Daniel (Oscar Isaac), an old family friend — so to speak — who also once resided with the family.

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