Back in the shadows again: the lighter side of "dark shadows," Free Associates, at the Ivanhoe Theater. Dan Curtis's daytime soap Dark Shadows--which ran on ABC from 1966 to 1971--was probably the weirdest thing on television in a decade that also featured genies and talking cars. The rotating cast of characters in Dark Shadows included vampires, werewolves, zombies, and witches, yet its sophisticated stories explored parallel universes, jumping through time and space from the Salem witch trials to the 1960s and borrowing from Norse mythology, Asian mysticism, and H.P. Lovecraft.
Returning for its fourth season, the Free Associates' exhaustively researched Dark Shadows homage continues to do a remarkable job of distilling the ethos of the series into an hour of structured improvisation. By centering its serialized stories on two members of the creepy Collins clan--bloodthirsty vampire Barnabas and ageless werewolf Quentin--the troupe has narrowed the evening's focus, making even the most arcane references accessible. Certainly a working knowledge of Dark Shadows will enhance one's appreciation of Back in the Shadows, but the show also aims for parody that transcends bad haircuts and goofy dialogue: its deadpan irony makes it every bit as subversive as its source.