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The New Boo Review

We sample 2010's harvest of Halloween theater.

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Should we as a society be concerned that there are getting to be as many shows for Halloween as there are Christmas Carols and Nutcrackers for Christmas? Not yet, I'd say. Wait until the Goodman Theatre starts doing one every year.

Here's a sampling of productions for the ghostly season. More can be found in our listings, and others will arrive in the coming weeks. —Tony Adler

The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Theatre-Hike Afternoon sunlight and crisp fall air don't exactly conjure up Victorian London's sooty cobblestones and repressed depravity. But director Bradley Baker doesn't let pleasant surroundings compromise this psychologically intense Theater Hikes staging of Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 horror novel, performed outdoors at the Morton Arboretum. Baker treats families on blankets to brutal—though not graphic—mutilations, murders, and more. Jeffrey Hatcher's 2009 adaptation plays up Stevenson's emphasis on the unconscious by deploying multiple Hydes to lurk at the periphery of the action. As the primary Hyde, Geoff Crump provides a hulking counterpoint to Dan Toot's high-strung Jekyll. Their relationship is so effective, in fact, that the multi-Hyde device quickly starts to feel like a distraction.  Through 10/31: Sat-Sun 1 PM, Morton Arboretum, 4100 Illinois Route 53, Lisle, 630-725-2066,, $13-$19 (includes arboretum admission). —Keith Griffith

Dracula: A Tragedy This swirling, hallucinogenic overhaul of Bram Stoker's classic horror novel is full of potent ideas. Playwright Mark Mason connects vampirism with the suppression of female sexuality—depicting both Jack the Ripper and a Victorian abortionist as vampiric—and also with colonial exploitation. Incensed that the British revile his blood sucking yet drain colonized people of the resources they need to survive, Dracula aims to bring the empire down. But Mason hasn't found a coherent way to express his insights as theater. His 85-minute swoon lurches through fragmentary scenes that are usually more confusing than evocative. Stephen James Anderson's long-suffering cast don't make sense of it either; I'm not sure anyone could.  Through 10/31: Mon-Wed 7:30 PM, Fri-Sat 11:30 PM, Sun 7:30 PM, additional show 10/31 at 7:30 PM, Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr, 773-728-7529,, $15. —Justin Hayford

Ghostbox A young widow receives messages from her late husband through a transistor radio and eventually pays a visit to the tiny, bare-bulbed room in which he's spending eternity. Through long speeches and tense exchanges we learn that they're devout evangelical Christians whose faith was shattered by the loss of a child. The father, mad with grief and believing himself to be God's outcast, drowned himself in the bath. Rising playwright Randall Colburn specializes in sympathetic portrayals of born-agains in crisis, but this time he's heavy-handed and portentous—and the overheated performances in Mitch Golob's Infusion Theatre Company staging only make matters worse. All the emoting pulls focus from the show's best and eeriest effect: Kevin Viol's flickering video projections.  Through 10/31: Thu-Sat 8:30 PM, also Sun 10/31, 8:30 PM, Apollo Theater, studio, 2540 N. Lincoln, 773-935-6100,, $20. —Zac Thompson

The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe: A Love Story Edgar Allan Poe's doomed marriage to his cousin Virginia Clemm provides a narrative spine for this collection of scary favorites like "The Tell-Tale Heart" and "The Pit and the Pendulum." Under Michael Goldberg's direction, the acting is generally lively and energetic. Robert Allan Smith, in particular, captures the gibbering hysteria of Poe's characters without going over the top, and John Sanders' superb interpretation of "The Bells" reveals the poem's hidden depths. "Ligeia" and "The Masque of the Red Death" drag, though—I suspect because the power in these particular tales lies in Poe's overheated prose style, not his storytelling. The staging of the production in some of the 39 rooms of Mayslake Hall, an 89-year-old Tudor Revival mansion, adds a touch of haunted-house novelty.  Through 11/7: Wed-Sat 8 PM, Sun 3 and 7:30 PM, Mayslake Peabody Estate, 1717 W. 31st, Oakbrook, 630-986-8067,, $20-$35. —Jack Helbig

Monster Mash Your favorite creepy characters try their furry, gloved, and knife-wielding hands at improv in this show from Chemically Imbalanced Comedy. On the night I attended, the energetic cast stayed in ghoulish character—as Dracula, Werewolf, Killer Doll, Zombie, Mad Scientist, and Frankenstein—while performing suggestion-based games about everything from town hall meetings to murder mysteries. They also embraced even the strangest audience requests, like "hobos fighting in an alley" done in the style of the Terminator franchise. Jay Gish plays Dracula with sincerity and, yes, bite, despite the absence of fangs. An entertaining, all-ages seasonal show filled with puns for kids and topical humor for adults.  Through 10/28: Thu 8 PM, also Sun 10/31, 8 PM, Chemically Imbalanced Theater, 1420 Irving Park Rd, 773-865-7731,, $10 —Marissa Oberlander

Musical of the Living Dead At the top of this musical parody of George Romero's 1968 zombie classic, Night of the Living Dead, a Romero-esque old guy warns the audience, "This ain't gonna be pretty! There's gonna be a lot of blood!" Eh. I've seen worse. The occasional arterial geyser and severed head here aren't going to scare anybody. And the production values aren't much, either. Neither, come to think of it, are the songs, featuring undistinguished pastiche tunes by Mary Spray and only approximately witty lyrics by the playwrights, Marc Lewallen and Brad Younts. I had a great time anyway: a solid percentage of the cast is buoyant, smart, and talented, supplying a sly, funny show where none exists on paper. Jill Valentine, Quinton Guyton, and Mandy Whitenack (apparently channeling Bette Davis) are especially good as besieged humans; Tim Soszko plays a glib zombie who offers amused running commentary on the mayhem. Through 10/30: Thu-Sat 7:30 PM, Sun 10/31, 7:30 PM, Charnel House, 3421 W. Fullerton, 773-871-9046,, $20, $35 for Halloween show and afterparty. —Tony Adler

Nightmares on Lincoln Ave. Too—Totally Tubular Tales of Terror Corn Productions hangs ten on the rising wave of 1990s nostalgia with this smart, silly, very funny parody of Are You Afraid of the Dark?, the spooky Clinton-era television show for kids. As the Up Past Bedtime Brigade—the sort of cross-clique teen mix found only on children's TV—Corn's expert adult ensemble perform a rapid-fire series of sketches exploring the turbulence of adolescence and the most embarrassing aspects of fin de siecle youth culture. Phrases like "no dip!" and "dotcom" as a suffix for everything took me back to middle school. The meticulous costume design is perhaps the show's scariest element: seemingly every awful piece of 90s fashion has been resurrected to walk among the living once more.  Through 10/30: Wed-Sat 8 PM, Cornservatory, 4210 N. Lincoln, 312-409-6435,, $7-$15. —Keith Griffith

The Rip Nelson Halloween Spooktacular Like most Hell in a Handbag shows, this campy, vulgar send-up of mid-70s television variety specials constantly teeters on the brink of collapse. Sometimes it's sublimely coarse, as when a mentally clouded Kate Smith has a bowel movement while belting God Bless America. And sometimes it just seems like it could use another day of rehearsal. Still, David Cerda's deliciously overstuffed script captures the inherent absurdity of old network specials, with has-beens and newcomers shoehorned into dreadful skits that make everyone look bad. While the central thread—the desperate efforts of drunken, lecherous, D-listed Rip Nelson to save his career—is the least successfully developed element in the show, the surrounding mayhem is golden, building to Charo's jaw-droppingly awful finale, "Hoochie Coochie Halloween."  Through 11/6: Fri-Sat 7:30 PM, Sun 10/31, 7:30 PM, Mary's Attic Theatre, 5400 N. Clark, 773-784-6969,, $12-$17. —Justin Hayford

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