In the days leading up to Halloween, plenty of Toronto theatre companies are producing shows aiming to shock, titillate, and unsettle you. Our round-up of spooky seasonal performances.
With Halloween comes all sorts of spooky spectacles and performances: haunted houses, risqué cabarets, and countless theme-party events. There are also plenty of theatre companies programming work in the spirit of the season—with spirits, perhaps—a mix of classic Halloween fare and new works. Few of these shows are happening in traditional theatres; many independent companies have chosen to perform in alternative spaces, some of them keeping the location secret until your tickets are booked—or you show up at an arranged meeting place. Just adds a bit more mystery to the experience, right?
On to the shows!
(Note: those shows we’ve reviewed have stars assigned to them; the previews, obviously, do not.)
“Matchbox” is a bit of an exaggeration, both with respect to the playing space (inside a garage at the end of an alleyway), and to how much they’ve condensed Shakespeare’s “cursed” Scottish play—but not by much. That said, for Litmus Theatre less really is more, and the four-member cast uses the space inventively, with the rusty garage door serving as both musical instrument and entrance. Claire Wynveen, deprived of many of Lady Macbeth’s lines, still makes an impression as the ambitious noblewoman, and Jamie Maczko is a suitably brusque presence as the titular warrior and usurper; we lose the broadsword battles (which couldn’t be swung in the space, even absent an audience), but this production more than makes up for it with some sleight-of-hand staging and clever streamlining of the tragedy. (Steve Fisher)
Eric Woolfe’s macabre creation, Doc Wuthergloom, is a charlatan of the first degree, with all sorts of entertaining stories up his sleeve—and many different tricks as well, though we couldn’t catch the deft magician at any of them. Wuthergloom claims an advanced age and a life spent studying dark arts, driven by a vengeful ghost to learn the secrets of necromancy. We learn this back story over the course of his show and presentation, with everything eventually leading back to his pitch for a $5 “home exorcism almanac.” While he’s setting out to “prove” the booklet as indispensable, Wuthergloom also brings up a series of volunteers, and his comic timing with them is spot on. A puppet show as well as a magic and storytelling experience, it’s definitely not for kids, but the young at heart will be suitably impressed. (Steve Fisher)
The stage version of the cult film Rocky Horror Picture Show (which screens this weekend with a shadowcast at the Toronto Underground Cinema) has most of the elements that make the film so adored by its fans: the catchy songs, the out-there costumes, and most especially, the audience participation. While there were few props employed by the audience at the late-night showing we attended (and nothing thrown, as stipulated in the program and pre-show), there were more than a couple of fans who knew all sorts of clever responses and heckles to the show’s affectionately derided script. The triple-threat skills of the cast ranged from passable to exceptional; we noted that the actors who were most comfortable interacting with the audience—Adam Norrad’s Frank’N’Furter, Rebecca Perry’s Criminologist, and Cory Strong’s Brad—were also the performers who did the best with their roles. And yet, while the production looked and sounded fine, it was curiously lacking in sexual tension. Oh, sure, there was plenty of crotch and chest fondling, but less kitsch and more edge would have tipped the production from good to great. (Steve Fisher)
If bedsheet phantoms and plastic skeletons seem too cheesy for your tastes, Soulpepper’s got some horror that’s a little more highbrow. Ghosts, by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, is a dark, cryptic story of the Alving family in the 1880s. As a new orphanage is about to be dedicated to the recently deceased patriarch at the Alvings’ country home, secrets held tight by the widow Mrs. Alving begin to unravel in front of local cleric Pastor Manders, her expatriate artist son Oswald, the maid Regine, and her lush father, Jacob. While no spooky spirits literally appear during the play, in the hands of director Morris Panych (known for the dark comedies 7 Stories and Vigil) and a doom-and-gloom set from Ken MacDonald, the Alvings’ home becomes haunted by the traces of past infidelity, rape, alcoholism, STIs, euthanasia, and sexism. Nancy Palk and Gregory Prest give harrowing performances as the traumatized mother and son, but Panych’s humour has its shining moments with Joseph Ziegler as Pastor Manders and Diego Matamoros as Jacob.
Take away city lights and a dark night in fall is very dark indeed. So right from the start, as we’re led through Black Creek Pioneer Village to the Samuel Stong House by a lantern-bearing actor, the mood is set. That deepens as the home’s new owner, De la Poer (Andrew Gaboury) begins his story of inheriting an ancient ancestral home, Exham Priory, built over top of an even older structure—and avoided by all the locals. Accompanied by his friend Edward Norrys (Peter Counter), he seeks to uncover the extent of the subterranean passages below the house, thinking they might be the source of the scratching and skittering he hears at night (which the servants say they don’t). The one large room is lit primarily by candles and the actor’s lanterns, and some simple staging invests the house with supernatural disturbance. But more showing rather than telling in this adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s short story—and perhaps more creative use of the space—would elevate this beyond a mildly unsettling experience into a truly chilling tale. (Steve Fisher)
Haunted houses are common fare at Halloween. But Murder on Ossington is a haunted house tale that suggests that horrors aren’t only found in abandoned mansions atop a hill, old cabins in the thick of the forest, or ancient castles bequeathed by unknown great-great-great-great-great uncles. They can be found in your very own home. Audience members with reserved tickets are notified of the secret location a day in advance of the performance, at which they meet and travel through a nondescript home and observe a series of short scenes. With the guidance of a phantasmal host, the experience builds to the final reveal of the contents of an envelope given to each audience member. Though the execution lacks cohesion, the overall concept is clever, unique, and a direction Pandemic Theatre should pursue. (Carly Maga)
Historic Campbell House has been used to good dramatic effect before by theatre companies—including previous chill-inducing shows such as The Turn of the Screw and The Paranormal Show. Red One Theatre Collective, who’ve staged site-specific shows all over Toronto for the last five years, have paired with Yabu no Naka Co-Op to produce an original adaptation of Ryūnosuke Akutagawa’s short stories, which inspired Rashomon. Enlisting a multifaceted cast that includes David Christo (The Godot Cycle) and Lorna Wright (Hooded Fang), the performance will move throughout the large house as viewers discover a tale that’s been reset in 19th century Canada. (Steve Fisher)
One Halloween event suitable for both miniature monsters and their mummies is the classic Wizard of Oz, set to the live accompaniment by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Toronto already survived a hurricane this summer, but we think this tornado will be a little bit more enjoyable. (Carly Maga)
All Hallow’s Eve forces us all to ponder what really freaks us out most. The dark? A bump in the night? Legions of Jersey Shore clones trick-or-treating? The six directors participating in Strange Things Done: A Nightmare in Six Acts were also forced to ask themselves the question “What frightens or disturbs you most?” The answers are being presented in a cycle format from sunset to 11 p.m. this Saturday. Stories will consist of both brand new tales of terror and classic literary fables. And with a revolving door policy, audience members can come and go as they please if they’d prefer not to face such probing questions.
Fresh from a run in New York City (and flush with their shiny new Canadian Comedy Awards), the NTOW brings back their monthly Impromptu Splendor show to its theatrical home at Theatre Passe Muraille. The 7:30 p.m. cabaret will feature local performers doing spooky renditions of “party songs,” followed at 9 p.m. by the company performing their signature Impromptu show with a Halloween theme. (Steve Fisher)