Arts & Culture » Performing Arts Feature

Seven theater and comedy shows for the spooky season

From Dracula to the Demon Barber of Fleet Street’s . . . brother



In a bare six weeks you'll be getting your heart warmed by Scrooge and Rudolph and the rest. Right now, though, it's time to contemplate getting it pulled out through your rib cage and eaten by some ungodly beast. Below you'll find reviews of seven Halloween shows. We'll be seeing a lot more soon, so check back next week. —Tony Adler

Are You Still Afraid of the Dark?, at Under the Gun Theater - ADAM SHALZI
  • Adam Shalzi
  • Are You Still Afraid of the Dark?, at Under the Gun Theater

Are You Still Afraid of the Dark? For those of you who want your scary stories not too scary, here's a tribute to Are You Afraid of the Dark?, the long-running Nickelodeon series from the 90s that combined eerie urban legends and ghost stories with bracing lessons about friendship. This Midnight Society of five talented performers throws in improv comedy too. The team works well together: the characters and story are mostly coherent, the jokes are funny, and everyone gets a chance to shine. If the most recent tale, "The Morbid Golf Course," wasn't exactly terrifying, well, that's a minor failing. The opening act, Horror of Terror, a group that creates improvised horror flicks, is slower, more awkward, and not nearly as funny. —Aimee Levitt

Hobo Junction's Bernie Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street . . . 's Brother - CODY JOLLY PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Cody Jolly Photography
  • Hobo Junction's Bernie Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street . . . 's Brother

Bernie Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street . . . 's Brother Bernie Todd (Kristi Parker Barnhart) has a thunderous cluster of clouds for a head of hair. The tufts quiver with static. But don't let that fool you: he would like to make it clear that he is a perfectly normal citizen running a perfectly normal law firm. Pay no mind to his conspicuously christened partner, Karl Frankenstein; do not inquire about the book I Am Clown, nestled on a shelf between Small Town Law and Lawyer Stuff Vol. 3; be careful not to bring up pies filled with human "nibbles." Despite his chaotic circumstances, Bernie Todd longs for nothing more than a life of quiet mediocrity. But the clowns have been sent in, and the high jinks have already begun. Is this late-night show from Hobo Junction stupid? Of course. How could a musical parody brimming with kazoos, greasepaint mustaches, and oodles of pink silly string be anything else? But don't you love farce? —Isabel Ochoa Gold

Camp Psychopathways, at iO Theater - FORESTT STRONG LAFAVE
  • Forestt Strong LaFave
  • Camp Psychopathways, at iO Theater

Camp Psychopathways Danny Galvin and Brad Pike aim for camp and hit wacky in this satirical musical (with songs by Galvin, Pike, and Robbie Ellis) about a dysfunctional summer camp for psychopathic girls: one is a sadist, another a wannabe arsonist, the third a narcissistic cell-phone addict, etc. The story that unfolds is well told and much more tightly written than you might expect from a shoestring production at a theater best known for improv; Gretchen Eng is particularly good as a heartless would-be tween dominatrix. With a little more spit and polish this could become a cult classic or a great low-budget movie. —Jack Helbig

Dr. Steward's Dracula, at First Folio Theatre - DAVID RICE
  • David Rice
  • Dr. Steward's Dracula, at First Folio Theatre

[Recommended] Dr. Seward's Dracula Set in 1895 London, Joseph Zettlemaier's suspenseful chiller is a sequel of sorts to Bram Stoker's seminal vampire tale. Taking characters from Stoker's original and mixing in real-life elements like Jack the Ripper, Zettlemaier focuses on vampire hunter Dr. Seward and his increasingly tortured life following the death of his beloved Lucy, one of Dracula's early victims. Ably directed by Alison C. Vesely, this First Folio production is packed with first-rate performers, especially Christian Gray, who displays remarkable range as Seward. This is one of those rare thrillers that lives up to its promise, grabbing our attention in its first moments and not letting go until the heart-stopping ending. —Jack Helbig

Waltzing Mechanics' Hell Stories - CARINNE USLAR
  • Carinne Uslar
  • Waltzing Mechanics' Hell Stories

Hell Stories The 26th edition of Waltzing Mechanics' popular El Stories, which turns verbatim transcripts of interviews about CTA passengers' experiences into ensemble performance pieces, focuses on allegedly frightening mass transit encounters. While a few are genuinely chilling (two men hoist a dead woman onto the train, ride with a her a few stops, then drag her off) and others are lightheartedly "Halloweeny" (a young man's grandmother chums up to a woman who purports to be a witch), most endorse the same ugly classist assumptions that have pervaded previous El Stories installments, namely that people who are homeless, mentally ill, using drugs, or acting eccentrically should be feared. The ample comic bits director Natalie Sallee adds to the mix don't make things go down any easier. —Justin Hayford

ColorBox Theatre's The Medium - KURT KONOW
  • Kurt Konow
  • ColorBox Theatre's The Medium

The Medium It's an intense experience to hear powerful operatic voices in a small room. It can be thrilling, but also painful. In the case of Gian Carlo Menotti's mid-20th-century chamber opera The Medium, now running in a tiny pocket theater upstairs at the Royal George, there's an argument to be made for it. The aural claustrophobia that ensues is perfectly suited to the opera's deliberately suffocating atmosphere. Mezzo-soprano Heather Aranyi is compelling, vocally and dramatically, as Madame Flora, a con woman who pretends to commune with the dead, and then does—at least in her own unraveling mind. The results are horrific for the two youngsters trapped in her clutches, and for the audience. Aranyi's admirably unhinged performance in this ColorBox Theatre production is supported by a youthful five-member cast and pianist Philip Seward. Consider yourself warned, and pack earplugs. —Deanna Isaacs

Ouija: A Haunted History, at the Annoyance - ERIK M. KOMMER
  • Erik M. Kommer
  • Ouija: A Haunted History, at the Annoyance

Ouija: A Haunted History The Annoyance's half-formed, hour-long goof plays inordinately fast and loose with the history of the Ouija board. For instance, in this telling William Fuld, the prime marketer of Ouija boards in America, hits major pay dirt selling his game to Parker Brothers. In truth, that sale happened in 1966, 42 years after Fuld's death. But it makes no more sense to criticize the preternaturally impudent Annoyance for historical inaccuracy than to chastise a week-old puppy for peeing in the house. So while the story director Sam Locke and his improvising cast of four fashion is delightfully ludicrous, unlikely, and inane, its stage execution is too tentative and slapdash to have much impact. Only the sly card trick that opens the show feels finished. —Justin Hayford v

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