Stage Fright: the Halloween Season Brings Bloody Fun to Bay Area Theaters

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Diego Gómez in Thrillpeddlers’ Shocktoberfest 15: The Bloody Débutante; photo by David Allen

It’s no secret that San Francisco really, really loves Halloween, so it should be no surprise that there’s a ton of chiller theater all over the Bay Area every October. Some of them are the same creepy classics that we see pretty much every year in one theater or another, such as Dracula (Sonoma’s Silver Moon Theatre), Little Shop of Horrors (Alameda’s Altarena Playhouse) and Sweeney Todd (TheatreWorks in Mountain View). There are at least three productions of Stephen Mallatratt’s The Woman in Black, based on Susan Hill’s 1983 gothic horror novella (Dragon Productions in Redwood City, Marin Onstage in San Rafael, Coastal Rep in Half Moon Bay), which is the second-longest-running play in the history of London’s West End. There’s even a stage version of the kiddie favorite Bunnicula (Peninsula Youth Theatre). Here are a few picks to whet your appetite for blood, brains and other forbidden delights this month.

The Addams Family; photo: Alex Perez.
The Addams Family; photo by Alex Perez

The Addams Family

Plays through Oct. 19 at El Cerrito's Contra Costa Civic Theatre; Oct. 10 - Nov. 2 at the 6th Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa; and Bay Area Stage performs the play Oct. 17 - Nov. 2 at the Martinez Campbell Theatre and at Vallejo's Empress Theatre.

The Addams Family is best known either as the 1960's TV series or the 1990's feature films about the same lovably ghoulish family. (They were goths before goths were a thing.) But the characters started in the 1930s as a series of single-panel cartoons by Charles Addams in The New Yorker, and that’s the source material for this stage musical with songs by Andrew Lippa (Big Fish) and a book by Jersey Boys combo Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. Now that the show’s 2010 Broadway run starring Bebe Neuwirth and Nathan Lane has come and gone (with generally poor reviews), the floodgates have opened for local productions, and the region is indeed getting a deluge of them this month. Contra Costa Civic Theatre scored the actual Bay Area premiere to open the venerable El Cerrito community theater’s 55th season. It’s followed close at heels by a production at Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse, which is also running The Rocky Horror Show in its smaller Studio Theatre at the same time, so the North Bay will have no lack of campy Halloween fun. One week later, Bay Area Stage opens a production at the Martinez Campbell Theatre that subsequently moves to Vallejo’s Empress Theatre in early November. Soon the farthest reaches of the Bay Area will be creepy, kooky and altogether ooky.

BATS Improv's Horror Zombie Serial; photo: Stephanie Pool.
BATS Improv's Horror Zombie Serial; photo by Stephanie Pool

Improvised Horror Trio

Improvised Twilight Zone, Oct. 3-24; Zombie Horror Serial, Oct. 4 – 25; Improvised Horror Musical
, Oct. 31 – Nov. 1, BATS Improv (Bayfront Theater, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco)

One of those acronyms that eventually became the official name, BATS originally stood for Bay Area Theatresports, but this month we may as well pretend it stands for... well, bats. San Francisco’s longest-running improv comedy outfit (established 1986), BATS has several shows running at any given time (each one is of course improvised and therefore different every single night). In October all those offerings are on the creepy side. The titles are self-explanatory: every Friday night is Improvised Twilight Zone, a series of short-form vignettes; Saturdays are a Zombie Horror Serial (with an ongoing story made up as it goes along); and on Halloween weekend is an Improvised Horror Musical spawned entirely from audience suggestions.

Roxanne RedMeat in Thrillpeddlers’ Shocktoberfest 15: The Bloody Débutante; photo by David Allen
Roxanne RedMeat in Thrillpeddlers’ Shocktoberfest 15: The Bloody Débutante; photo by David Allen

Shocktoberfest 15: The Bloody Débutante

Oct. 9 – Nov. 22, Thrillpeddlers (The Hypnodrome, 575 10th Street, San Francisco)

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Thrillpeddlers are San Francisco’s go-to outfit for blood-soaked Grand Guignol entertainment, especially in its annual Shocktoberfest short-play “extravaganza of terror and titillaion.” In Scrumbly Koldewyn’s short musical The Bloody Débutante, a young woman is stood up at her coming-out party, setting the jilted teen on a bloody rampage. The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether is Paulo Biscaia Filho’s English translation of his Portuguese adaptation of Andre de Lorde’s 1903 Grand Guignol play based on the Edgar Allen Poe story of the same name -- got all that? It’s about a young female journalist uncovering the dark and dangerous secrets of an insane asylum. Two novelists’ rivalry turns extreme in Damien Chacona and Andy Wenger’s Deathwrite, and Rob Keefe’s The Taxidermist’s Revenge recounts the titular artiste’s gory response to his critics.

Creep, part of Awesome Theatre’s Terror-Rama; photo by Julia Somit
Creep, part of Awesome Theatre’s Terror-Rama; photo by Julia Somit

Terror-Rama

Oct. 17 – Nov. 1, Awesome Theatre (EXIT Theatre, 500 Castro Street, San Francisco)

Awesome Theatre, which brought San Francisco Zombie! A New Musical in 2009, is back with a Grindhouse double feature of plays by local playwrights inspired by trashy ’70s horror flicks. Nicholas C. Pappas’ dark and brooding Creep mashes up ’70s slasher flicks with contemporary feminism, with a serial killer targeting women he considers “unclean.” Anthony R. Miller’s pitch-black comedy Camp Evil is inspired by such cinematic classics as Sleepaway Camp and Porky’s, recounting one family’s attempt to reopen a summer camp haunted by a gruesome past. The show even includes a spooky horror host in the manner of Vampira or Elvira, this one called Sindie Chopper.

Mr. Nobody’s Spookeasy
Mr. Nobody’s Spookeasy

Mr. Nobody’s Spookeasy

Oct. 30 – Nov. 2, The Great Star Theater (636 Jackson Street, San Francisco)

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Combining seasonal spookiness with San Francisco’s retro speakeasy craze, impresario Barron Scott Levkoff transforms Chinatown’s Great Star Theatre into a den of macabre decadence described as “a scintillating circus-like, madcap séance soiree.” Think 1930s-style burlesque meets Barbary Coast vaudeville with the surreal aesthetic of Prohibition-era Max Fleischer cartoons (Betty Boop). There’s a main stage vaudeville show of vaudeville, wandering phantasmagorical variety acts, swing music, giant puppets and “spook house” special effects inspired by the trademark gimmicks of B-movie producer William Castle. It’s also one big costume party, and flapper-era attire, vintage horror or “ToonTown” costumes are encouraged.