Scary Tales 2015

clock productions
Scary Tales 2015

Written and Directed by David Denman

Co-directed by Amber Mandley

Produced by Clock Productions

Very Amateur Group Struggles With Own Work

If most performers discovered they or their scene partner had make the unfortunate mistake of holding a placard upside down, they would probably turn it the right way. When an actress made that mistake at Scary Tales’ press opening, she and another actress merely looked at the sign with some disconcerted confusion, and then proceeded to the other, also upside down placards which they tried to hide by hunching over. There is no reason within the show to think this was intended as a joke, and it was typical of the night’s performance.

The collection of scary tales, written by the show’s director, producer, and company founder David Denman, aren’t so much scary as they are weird, like The Twilight Zone. The six of them range from just a few minutes long to about fifteen minutes. My favorite one was The Weird of Avoosl Wuthoqquan, an adaptation of a story by Clark Ashton Smith, who is attributed in the program for some reason as “Astin Clark Smith.” It is the story of how a greedy moneylender, played by Ben Powell, met his fate while pursuing obviously cursed and stolen emeralds. Though a simple fable, the company’s use of costumes (designed by Arin Mulvancy), and Powell’s rich voice could have made it a fun piece of children’s theatre.

The other tales did not fare as well. Several of them required the actors to do accents, and besides Powell, most of their voices were weak to begin with. In one story set during World War I, the French and German accents sounded identical. One story adapted from Arthur C. Clarke features two British schoolgirls in 1899 speculating on how in an infinite universe, it is inevitable that other versions of themselves on other planets have had encounters with tigers and tyrannosauruses. (T-rex wasn’t named until 1906. Why specify a year if it doesn’t matter?) Again, the accents compounded the problem of already inarticulate deliveries, and this wasn’t the only play set in Victorian England. The odd thing is, I’d seen one of the actors before in a much better show playing a much more demanding role, and he didn’t have nearly the same problem making himself heard.

Most of the other plays are also parables, although their lessons have no possible real-world application. The two longest ones are especially convoluted, and come back to back late in the show, trying the audience’s patience even more. One is the story recounted by a psychologist of a WWI soldier who got shell-shocked by trolls and then met another troll from the circus, and the other is the story of how a young genius weathered a seemingly imminent nuclear war in a time machine and nearly went insane in isolation only to get screwed by fate in a different way. A common problem with these stories was an unnecessary and garbled narrator. The best part of the show is cartoons in the program that illustrate the stories, often more effectively than the performance.

This production suffers a lot from having been almost entirely the output of a single person. There needed to be someone else in the creative process to ask questions of the script and directing, and that clearly didn’t happen. I don’t like to bash such a clearly amateur attempt to put on a show purely for the company’s own love of performing. It’s no worse than the average student production. But when they’re charging fifteen dollars for a ticket, they’re fair game.

Not Recommended

Jacob Davis
[email protected]

Reviewed January 15, 2015

For more information, see Scary Tales 2015’s page at Theatre in Chicago.

Playing at the Alley Stage, 4147 North Broadway, Chicago.