Jay Torrence, Leah Urzendowski and Dean Evans/ Photo: Justin Barbin
“This is not the story of Frankenstein!” dejectedly screams the Storyteller of 500 Clown’s “500 Clown Frankenstein,” which opened in an exhilarating, fresh-faced seasonal remount on Wednesday night at the Viaduct Theater. From outward appearances—physical gags, scrappy costuming and an atomic bomb’s worth of forward emotionality—I can’t blame Lilly the clown for feeling a smidgen frustrated with her unwinnable circumstances. But Leah Urzendowski’s character, a rambunctious and unabashedly narcissistic showoff, is both right and wrong in her bemoaned assertion.
To be sure, there is substantially more plotting minutiae to author Mary Shelley’s race-to-the-finish effort in literary romanticism than in this race-to-the-finish attempted retelling of it. Boasting a treasure trove of dark and dreary back story, a strange encounter with a forested family and a jaundiced-looking creature’s well-spoken sentimental journey to the North Pole, the novel certainly ventures far beyond the confines of its iconic stormy castle. The book, since its inception having been viciously mined for simple horror fodder, actually carries a cumbersome weight of event-laden baggage. But, much to their dismay—and, on opening night, especially Dean Evans’ irritation—the ingeniously silly and miscommunicating clowns can barely escape easy-peasy Chapter One. Read the rest of this entry »
Just in time for Halloween, Strange Tree Group’s “Funeral Wedding: The Alvin Play” returns for an engagement at the Signal Ensemble Theatre. This gothic and drawn-out ghost story focuses on Alvin Fisher (Daniel Behrendt), a somewhat charming but odd recluse who chooses to live in (or maybe haunt) his family’s attic. Joining Alvin at times are his sister Anne (Delia Baseman) and parents (Jennifer Marschand and Ron Thomas). It goes without saying that family secrets go a long way in explaining why Alvin is the way he is. Also complicating matters is Anne’s new fiancé and family physician Robert Elliott (Scott Cupper) whom Alvin loathes to no end. There is much more to this tale, but to give away any more detail risks ruining the suspense. Read the rest of this entry »
The atmosphere for this superbly haunting piece of Halloween fare is firmly established from the moment you’re guided by hand from the dimly lit lobby through the cramped and darkened theater and into your seat. There’s no casual conversation with the audience member next to you as you take in the cluttered living space that you’ve just entered, only a slowly growing feeling of dread, which is heightened as the show suddenly starts and a terrified young woman haltingly takes the stage.
As Anna, a timid special-education teacher trapped in her house and hunted by her fellow townspeople for something she may or may not have done, Megan Merrill gives a quietly powerful tour de force, nervously pacing her tiny living room and occasionally giving us glimpses of the inner strength this broken character may have once possessed. Not too far into this fifty-minute whirlwind, as Anna describes the comings and goings of her tormentors, we start to wonder whether or not she is a reliable narrator. Jeremy Menekseoglu’s darkly engaging script is clever enough to provide the question and Merrill is multifaceted enough to keep the answer from being obvious. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s Christmastime in London and if the serial killer on the loose doesn’t take you out, the deadly plague that’s quickly spreading across town certainly will. WildClaw Theatre’s latest horror show is an ambitious endeavor, adapted by Charley Sherman from a thirty-six-page Clive Barker short story of the same name. “The Life of Death” follows Elaine Rider (Casey Cunningham) as she recovers emotionally and physically from a recent surgery that ended in an unexpected hysterectomy. Despondently watching the demolition of an old church, she meets the unconventional but professorly Kavanagh (Steve Herson, at once endearing and off-putting) and finds herself drawn to sneak into a crypt hidden beneath the church, where she comes across a (strikingly staged) mass of twisted, bloody corpses. As people around Elaine (friends and strangers alike) start dropping in increasingly gory fashion, she feels the presence of death in her life… and is oddly rejuvenated by it. Read the rest of this entry »
Opening and closing in the tight quarters of a ship on the Arctic Sea, most of playwright Bo List’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s novel unfolds as a recounting of events from a traumatized Victor Frankenstein (a rather flat Ed Krystosek). You know the story: guy makes monster, guy loses monster, monster gets guy back (revenge-wise). List sticks close to the source, retaining much of Shelley’s rich language and only conflating a few events for brevity’s sake (though the show still clocks in at 135 minutes, including a ten-minute intermission). The first act takes a while to get going, but prop designer Ian Anthony’s reanimation machine chugs, bubbles and twirls admirably as Frankenstein harnesses electricity (and archaic science) to jolt life into dead flesh. Read the rest of this entry »
Anyone who grew up in the western suburbs since the 1920s knows about “Peabody’s Tomb,” as Mayslake was referred to for decades. The sprawling, wooded estate was built by coal baron Francis S. Peabody who died suddenly on the property while hunting in 1922 and was buried in an ornate chapel built right on the spot where he fell.
Peabody’s thirty-room Tudor mansion became a Catholic retreat house run by the Franciscan order called the Mayslake Retreat Center. But the mansion and surrounding property was considered haunted and it became a common dare to sneak onto the property and get a glimpse of Peabody in his glass coffin, urban legend said, with his money surrounding him, but not to be caught by the monks who monitored the property and who would make trespassers pray on their knees on a cold floor all night in the chapel.
“Searching for Peabody’s Tomb” takes all of this local lore and turns it into an interactive tour through the memorable mansion itself in search of the tomb of the man who occupied it some ninety years ago now.
Read the rest of this entry »
After its debut performance last year at the Odeum Sports & Expo Center in west suburban Villa Park, the Asylum Xperiment is back for a second jaunt in what is shaping up to be an annual Halloween tradition.
The Asylum Xperiment is a post-millennial incarnation of the short-lived but never-to-be-forgotten Asylum Experience in Berwyn in the late 1990s, a haunted house unlike any other that was steeped not in shock and gore, but in imagination and creepiness. The lines would run around the block at this time of year, surrounding the Victorian tower with a hearse in front of it as the lucky elite who were ushered in were slowly treated to disturbing and eye-popping scenes from room to room that were exquisite in their macabre detail, courtesy of Dave Link. Read the rest of this entry »
At the opening of this onstage haunted house you’re at a foreign train station late at night, the sound of trains in the distance and buzzing flies nearby. Early on you realize you’re just in the anteroom and will actually have to board the train by walking down a dark, eerie hallway. This is where the true frights kick in, with a well-developed story penned by Jeremy Menekseoglu that mostly unfolds around you but involves you too, offering plenty of uncomfortable chills from a gory plot that leaves you feeling helpless and disturbed. Immersion is key. Read the rest of this entry »
As the earnest narrator Geest, Brian Pastor proves himself to be an engaging storyteller, injecting a fair amount of humor into his careful recounting of the familiar story of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman. Director Stephen F. Murray has Pastor make elaborate use of the various props lying around the cluttered basement-like set (designed by Matthew Cummings) throughout what is essentially a one-man show.
But the live original music (composed and performed by Matthew Bivins) and sound effects (Shawn Goudie) create the ambience that makes this show truly noteworthy, with memorable interpretations of passages from Bürger’s “Lenore” and Poe’s “Annabel Lee,” and an especially grim version of the spiritual “Dem Bones”—paced to the sound of banging pots and paired with darkly dramatic lighting (Christine Ferriter). It’s a Halloween show that’s eerie without being frightening though it contains enough spooky moments to give younger kids the chills. (Zach Freeman)
City Lit Theater at Edgewater Presbyterian Church, 1020 West Bryn Mawr, (773)293-3682. Through October 31. $25.
Sean Thomas, Ashlee Edgemon, John Sanders, Michael Aguirre, Jennifer T. Grubb/Photo: D. Rice
World-premiered by First Folio Theatre for Halloween 2006 and reprised a year later, it has been three years since Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Allan Poe have haunted the halls of Mayslake in west suburban Oakbrook Terrace. Dramas about Poe’s personal life and adaptations of his best-known short stories are a virtual cottage industry but kudos to First Folio managing director David Rice for a brilliant cross-fertilization of both types of Poe plays into a single, interactive audience experience that uses the magnificent space of the actual thirty-room Tudor “Peabody’s Tomb” mansion—considered haunted in Chicago folklore for decades—as an opportunity to spend an evening with the Poes and the characters of his best-known works.
Ushered into the cavernous library of the estate, Poe in the persona of actor John Sanders—making his debut in the role since Larry Neumann Jr., who created the role, is busy over at Steppenwolf as the chilling villain of “To Kill a Mockingbird”—welcomes you as guests as the real Poe would do, reading “The Bells.” Read the rest of this entry »