Bloody Bathory brings an infamous (alleged) serial killer back to life | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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Bloody Bathory brings an infamous (alleged) serial killer back to life

Barrens Theatre's inventive immersive church staging is just the right amount of creepy.

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When it comes to infamous female serial killers, Aileen Wuornos has nothing on the 16th century's Elizabeth Bathory, a Hungarian countess who allegedly drank—and even bathed in—the blood of virgins in order to stay youthful in those pre-Goop days. In Bloody Bathory, playwright Millie Rose (who also plays the countess) follows the lead of Sleep No More and many other immersive "choose your own adventure" shows by setting the action in several rooms of an Edgewater church.

The framing device is Bathory's trial; after a brief overview of her alleged crimes, we can pick our way among a series of simultaneous interactions involving doomed servant girls, feckless members of the clergy, and power-mad (but cash-poor) nobles, such as Archduke Matthias (Stephanie Mattos), who owed Bathory lots of money and thus, as some scholars in recent decades have suggested, had his own reasons for spreading rumors of her bloodthirsty ways. By the end, we reconvene to render a verdict.

Not everything in Molly H. Donahue's staging of Bathory's story is clear, and that's very much the point. There's not a lot of exposition to guide us, so we're thrown back on our own impressions, depending upon which mysterious tour guide you follow through the church hallways. My experience was more atmospheric than gory (though judging from the conversations around me, I apparently missed some disturbing stuff in the cellar). The cast and the running crew both do a terrific job of steering the audience through the various dimly lit spaces, and Amanda Vander Byl's costumes give a goth-punk edge to Bathory's servants (or are they themselves demons?). It's a dark amuse-bouche for your Halloween season.  v

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