Theatre NOW owner Alisa Harris has started Halloween early this year with a month-long production of “A Wilmington Horror Story.” It is a fabulous idea: an evening of original horror-themed one-acts aimed at adults. Halloween can be an odd bird: With children it’s a great holiday, and if you are single and into the bar scene, you can go out to mingle with yet another sexy nurse. For others, it can be a bit of a loss. TheatreNOW has the perfect antidote!
As people arrive and take their seats in the cozy dining theater, appetizers will appear on tables. The “Wicked Witch’s Dip” might be the best artichoke dip ever—warm, garlicky, great consistency, not just a lump of mayo with things added for color. I easily could have eaten a main course of just the dip and pita points it was so addictive.
The evening begins with Chase Harrison’s adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s “Herbert West—Re-Animator” story from “Weird Tales.” Fans of Lovecraft will rejoice at the opportunity to see his work onstage. However, Harrison’s “Dr. Herbert West: Re-Animator” is a pretty involved story to try and compress into a one-act format. In its simplest terms: Herbert West, played by Phil Antonino, has figured out how to bring people back from the dead with the use of a “re-animation” serum. It is still in a test-phase and, unfortunately, the newly re-living don’t come back as fully functioning and communicative. He has come to Miskatonic University mostly because of the attached morgue for the medical school. He quickly runs afoul of the faculty (Ron Hasson and Craig Kittner).
Harrison does justice to Lovecraft’s themes that question true horror: Is it the monster or humanity? There is a tremendous amount of material covered, and this could easily be expanded into a full-length show. Harrison’s directing style mirrors his fascination with comic books: There is very little in the way of set dressing; an emphasis is put on the dialogue and positioning the actor to mimic what a close-up looks like in a comic-book panel as to highlight moments of intense revelation.
After watching people die and come back to life to kill others, the main course of the evening comes to help re-ground one in reality. The “Roasted Swamp Thing” looks like a piece of art and tastes even better. The semolina pasta tombstone—a new experience for me—provides just enough texture to complement the vegetables. The roasted baby zucchini and mushrooms might be my new favorite meal in Wilmington. Not a drop of the red pepper parmesan sauce remained on my plate.
A new waiter circulates the dining area as the second play of the evening, “Dine and Dash,” by encore film critic Anghus Houvouras begins. Susan (Kiré Stentson) is meeting Clark (Phil Antonino) for a blind date, and the waiter (Nick Reed), with the most perfectly stylized mustache ever, is trying not to throw Clark out of the building.
Houvouras opts for a simple set of a table and chairs that are in effect just an extension of the dining room the audience inhabits. It creates a voyeuristic feeling—like spying on a table of poorly behaved but intriguing people nearby. It is bizarre to watch two such lovely people behave in such a truly terrible and awful manner. It is a verbal battle between two snipers.
Stentson and Antonino spend most of the show rooted in their chairs, yet it is almost impossible to look away from the train wreck. Add in Reed’s intermittent appearances as the man Stentson should be going home with and the tension heightens. This piece will stand as a reminder why this particular TheatreNOW show is not child-friendly. Much of the dialogue and some of the action are clear adult situations and completely inappropriate for the young.
“Dead Pudding”—rice pudding with pumpkin custard sauce and pistachio dust—is presented to cleanse the palate after Houvouras’ rather surprising take on single life. Chef Denise Gordon puts attention to detail that makes every plate delight. In this case it is the golden raisins in the pudding and the fresh mint leaves on the side of the sauce.
The evening comes capped off with “A Letter to Dave from the Zombie Apocalypse of Hurricane Irene” written by Calie Voorhis and directed by Aaron Willings. Judy (Kiré Stentson) is writing a letter to her friend Dave about Hurricane Irene hitting Wilmington. While at the Piggly Wiggly purchasing supplies in light of the storm, she also realizes the zombie apocalypse is starting. We follow Judy through her adventures in survival, which include hiding in the theater, only to discover that the apocalypse hit the theater in the middle of a rehearsal for “The Sound of Music.” She retreats to the relative safety of Lula’s (the iconic bar of the Wilmington theatre community) where drinking, riding out the storm and the Zombie threat culminate in a dance number with her cohorts. This is the highlight of the evening, as Ron Hasson plays her only surviving co-worker.
Willings has created the most visually exciting sets for the evening: Judy’s home office has a comfy chair and a wonderful typewriter that makes every lover of vintage items lust. The set for Lula’s is a simple but evocative bar with bar stools where Andrew Ligouri holds forth as the bartender, and the patrons happily kill a zombie. Willings has one of the most innovative minds for visual design currently working in our area. Even in a minimalist setting, he titillates.
Not having children to take trick-or-treating and having long-exhausted the bar scene on Halloween, I have come to treat the holiday with benign neglect. But TheatreNOW’s three shows have definitely changed my mind toward anticipation for next year. Hopefully this will become an annual tradition: great food, wonderful company, and intriguing entertainment combine to make it a winner!
A Wilmington Horror Story
Fri.-Sat. through Nov. 2
Doors at 6 p.m.; show at 7 p.m.
19 S. 10th Street