Chicago Theatre Companies Take on Horror Shows for Halloween

SCARE TACTICS: Halloween horror shows usually recall plastic masks, strobe lights, and spinning tunnels. But this season, three Chicago theatre companies are taking a more subtle tack and bringing horror back to its gothic roots

SEVEN SNAKES
The Mammals
September 25th through November 6th at Zoo Studio; 866-593-4614, themammals.blogspot.com
Plot: A young woman must choose sides in an apocalyptic battle between octogenarians and masked gunslingers (called the Seven Snakes).
Genre:
Spaghetti Western meets slasher
Setting:
The playwright and founder of The Mammals, Bob Fisher, relies on the intense intimacy of Zoo Studio, a 30-seat basement venue in Ravenswood. “What the audience’s imagination puts in that space is always more powerful than what I could put in that space,” he says.
Best special effect:
The snakes’ jaws can dislocate, represented through a combination of makeup, shadow, sound effect, and suggestion.
Shocking scene: Fisher’s script plays with telepathy, leading “to farcelike questions of identity, as to who is who and who am I sleeping with now? There are a lot of moments of unintentional kink.”
Inspiration: The godfathers of the revisionist Western movie, Sam Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch) and Sergio Leone (A Fistful of Dollars)
Greater meaning: “Grandpa might be adorable, but he might also be a monster,” says Fisher. “There’s a reason this is set in Arizona.”

GHOSTBOX
Infusion Theatre
September 30th through October 31st at Apollo Theater Studio; 773-935-6100, apollochicago.com
Plot: A woman in search of her estranged husband communicates with the afterlife.
Genre:
Ghost story
Best special effect:
Mitch Golob, the director, notes that even on a small budget, theatres can achieve spookiness: “A light bulb that flickers off and on at the right moment with the right intensity—those little things can really add a lot.”
Trickiest costume:
A shadowy figure who stands on the stage for much of the play
Grossest moment:
“I don’t make things gross anymore,” says the playwright, Randall Colburn. “I want to make pretty things. Scary, pretty things.”
Terror source:
That ominous third character who looms in the background throughout the play. “People get more scared when they’re scared for the people onstage,” says Colburn.
Greater meaning:
Colburn, a young playwright who is garnering local attention, says he uses the idea of the “ghostbox,” or a modified transistor radio said to pick up supernatural voices, as a way of exploring “the distance between two people, not to mention the distance between man and God.”

THE MADNESS OF EDGAR ALLAN POE: A LOVE STORY
First Folio
October 6th through November 7th at Peabody Mansion in Oak Brook; 630-986-8067, firstfolio.org
Plot: A selection of Poe’s most famous stories and poems (and details from his tortured life) come together in an atmospheric, ambulatory staging.
Genre:
Psychological thriller
Setting:
The actors playing Poe and his wife, Virginia, lead the audience from room to room at the historic Peabody Mansion in Oak Brook.
Best special effect: David Rice’s adaptation uses a complex soundscape to create an eerie atmosphere.
Shocking scene: “The Pit and the Pendulum” tends to play tricks on the mind. “I overheard a woman telling her friend she spent 15 minutes in total darkness, when really the amount of time that it’s absolutely pitch-black is about two minutes,” says Rice.
Greater meaning: “Poe has a great deal of tragedy in his work, which was informed by the incredible amount of tragedy in his life,” Rice says. “I wanted to show the cross between the two. With all great writers, so much of what they write comes out of the depths of their own experience.”

 

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Illustrations: Lorenzo Petrantoni

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