REVIEW: Six More Scary Tales (Clock Productions)

  
  

Spookiness and slapstick give play unexpected charm

  
  

Donaldson, Ryan Huges and Mark Dodge as The Gentlemen Suitors and Jessamyn Fitzpartrick as Madelene , Photo by D. Denman

  
Clock Productions presents
  
Six More Scary Tales
   
Written by David Denman
Directed by
Jesse Stratton and Mark Dodge
at
National Pastime Theater, 4139 N. Broadway (map)
through Feb 26  |  tickets: $15 (call 773-327-7077 for tix) 

Reviewed by Keith Ecker 

Although it’s more than nine months until Halloween, you can still get into the spooky spirit with Clock ProductionsSix More Scary Tales, the second play in the “Scary Tales” series. Written and produced by David Denman, the play is composed of six vignettes, each a cross between a campfire story, a morality play and a comical farce. The blend of genres usually works, though at times the cheese factor can be off-putting. But, overall, the six pieces come together to create a reasonably entertaining whole.

The play opens with "A Tale of Super Powers." The extremely short piece, which comes off more as a clunky sketch, is about a mugging victim who claims to have super strength, speed and imperviousness to bullets. There really is no fear factor in the short at all. It’s strictly a comedy, and a rather poor comedy at that. It certainly didn’t set the right tone for the pieces that would come, but fortunately it ended up being the weakest link of all the stories.

Derek J. Elstra as Kent and Linsey Falls, Photo by D. DenmanThe next story is "A Tale of Curiosity." It’s that often told tale about the woman with the choker around her neck, the one that she refuses to remove—ever. Of course, when the man of her dreams finally convinces her to remove it, he gets a shocking surprise. Although stronger than the previous piece, this tale also is weak. The story alone is trite. I’ve probably read it more than half a dozen times in various scary story collections. There is nothing added to the plot to give it a twist. The only redeeming quality is how laughably hokey it is when [spoiler alert?] the woman’s head pops off.

It is here at the third story where Six More Scary Tales finally begins to deliver. "A Tale of Avarice" tells the story of an Arabian man who is tempted to enter the harsh desert by a stranger who promises him great wealth. Eventually the man encounters three bewitching women who magically replace his tongue with an evil doppleganger. The result is a comic tragedy that works theatrically on a number of levels. The story is compelling, the acting is decent and the blend of spooky and silly is a good balance.

"A Tale of Morality" is next, and the only short to elicit applause at the end. Actress Andrea Young steals the piece (if not the whole production) with her portrayal of Death as a godfather-like figure imbued with genuine maternity. The story is about a young Sicilian man who is taken up as the godson of Death. With such a benefactor, he grows up to become a successful doctor. However, things get a little tricky when he must choose to either honor his supernatural godmother or save the woman he loves.

"A Tale of Vampires" is a predictable piece that works only because of how it pokes fun at the lack of American worldliness. Three American girls ride a train through Romania and Hungry while reading a book on the region’s history, which includes vampire folklore. Two strange locals board the train as well, and, as you’d imagine, suspicions rise. Although it doesn’t have the story of "A Tale of Avarice" or the heart of "A Tale of Morality," it’s still an entertaining segment.

Finally, the play ends on "A Tale of Monsters in the Attic," a piece that is introduced early in the production and resolved at the end. It’s a pretty traditional tale about a mad scientist, an attic and, of course, monsters.

Although spotty throughout, there’s real heart to this small production. That heart shines through, almost making up for the faults of the play. Still, some of the faults, especially those committed early on, weigh the entire piece down. My advice: Skip the first 10 minutes, and you’ll enjoy Six More Scary Tales.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
  
  

Six Scary Tales - Clock Productions - by David Denman

REVIEW: The Ghosts of Treasure Island (Adventure Stage)

Rockin’ adaptation reveres original pirate tale

 

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Adventure Stage Chicago presents
 
The Ghosts of Treasure Island
 
script by Eric Schmiedl
Music/lyrics by Captain Bogg and Salty
directed by Amanda Delheimer
at the Vittum Theater, 1012 N. Noble (map)
through May 20th | tickets: $12-$17 | more info

reviewed by Aggie Hewitt

Childhood is an existential crisis. Little ones ask their parents "why?" after any conceivable statement, sure that adults are omniscient rulers, who hold in their minds the secrets of life’s mysteries. The grown-ups, unable to answer questions  like, "why does a car go? Not how, but why?" end up distracting kiddies with rules, especially rules about how rude and annoying it is to ask unanswerable questions. Our rules say, "be good, and treasure-island1good things will happen to you." Childhood lore tends to reflect and uphold these laws, good conquers, evil is defeated, and happiness reigns. Young adult novels, plays and movies rarely venture into areas of ambiguous morality, but those that do are rewarded with critical acclaim, and sometimes the promise of timelessness; such is the case with Robert Louis Stevenson‘s 1881 Treasure Island. This is a tale that truly respects the emotional intelligence of children, and Adventure Stage Chicago‘s theatrical adaption of The Ghosts of Treasure Island doesn’t shy away from that.

From the opening scenes of this thrilling play, the audience is confronted with themes of familial loyalty, regrets of old age and the beckoning call to youth to "make your mark" on the world. This is a show that – to steal Del Close‘s famous phrase – plays to the top of it’s intelligence. From the creative set designed by Chelsea Warren, which includes a beam which can be raised to transform a flat wooden floor into a pirate ship, to the artful adaptation by playwright Eric Schmiedl, who plays hard on the book’s themes of self-discovery and moral ambiguity.

One of the most striking parts of the play is the performance of Glenn Stanton as the depressive alcoholic pirate Billy Bones, whose life of regret, and pathetic death serve as the inciting incident of this play. He is actually scary as the forlorn pirate, whose drunken state gives way to demented fantasies and violent, erratic behavior. Jim Hawkins, played here by youthful Kroydell Galima, should have been played by an actual teenager, instead of an adult actor who can play young. However, Galima is committed, intelligent and earnestly in touch with the emotional state of a child.

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Punctuating scenes and major emotional shifts in this play is the pirate band Captain Bogg and Salty, who according to the program worked closely with the playwright in creating the adaptation. The music is dark and intense, and the lyrics are poetic. The band transforms a turn of the last century tale into a ballad rock musical, whose emotional intensity matches the complicated 129-year old story.

Ghosts of Treasure Island is a rocking adaptation that reveres the original tale. A perfect blend of childhood angst and modern day craft have made a near perfect children’s play. There are short comings, however. The play, which runs over an hour and a half may be a bit long for some young audiences. Additionally, this play has the potential to be too scary. It holds children to a high level, so make sure the little guys and girls you bring on board are up for an intellectual challenge and can handle the fear factor. In terms of raising the stakes of children’s theater, however, The Ghosts of Treasure Island truly hits the mark.

 
Rating: ★★★

Recommended for ages 9 and up (4th thru 8th grades).

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  • April 24 (Performance is part of ASC’s Spring Fling: A Pirate Party)
  • May 1 (Behind the Scenes Day – Get a VIP tour after the show)
  • Special Evening Performance: Friday May 7th at 7:00 p.m.
  • May 8 (Picture with a Pirate Day – Take photos with the cast)

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