The ghost stories in Second Skin move from creepy to compelling to haunting | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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The ghost stories in Second Skin move from creepy to compelling to haunting

Playwright Kristin Idaszak weaves together horrors real and imagined.


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The selkie, in Celtic lore, are magical creatures formed from the souls of people drowned at sea. They're capable of changing from seal to human by shedding their skins, which they must keep to change back. Chicago playwright Kristin Idaszak uses the legend of these shapeshifters as a jumping-off point for the three interlocking monologues that make up this evening of short, creepy tales.

The beauty of Idaszak's writing, though, is that she knows that the mundane horrors of everyday life are at least as terrifying as ghosts. A middle-aged daughter, ably played by Stephanie Shum, is haunted by her fraught relationship with a mother, now dying of ALS; an elderly mother (Paula Ramirez) is still obsessed by a sibling who died when she was young; a lonely young woman (Hilary Williams), cut off from her family, has never outgrown her adolescent competition with her older sister.

As tight as the writing is, it's the director, Jess Hutchinson, and her three-person cast who make the show. Each actor knows how to turn the screw a little tighter, and a little tighter still, until by the end we hang on the last storyteller's every word. Long after this ghost story was finished, I was haunted by it.   v

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