Harrowing, haunted, spectral…and full of stars

So much good stuff on the boards, it’s scary

BY TRAV S.D.  |  October is my favorite month to see Downtown theater in New York. The madness of the summer festivals is well past, and all the hometown companies bring out their “A” games. Also, as a general rule, it is neither too hot nor too cold in the audience — and that’s not to be sneezed at. And lastly (the elephant in the room), it’s the time of spooky (and hokey) Halloween shows. That alone would take it over the top. This looks to be a particularly exciting October, with an unusual amount of star power infiltrating our typical Downtown haunts.

Through October 14, La MaMa will be presenting “AdA (Author Directing Author)” — a collaboration between Neil LaBute (“In the Company of Men,” “Nurse Betty”) and Italian playwright Marco Calvani, in which the two writers direct each other’s one-act plays. The production will be the American premiere of both LaBute’s “The Lovely Head” and Calvani’s “Things of This World.” Estelle Parsons (“Bonnie and Clyde,” “Roseanne”) is in the cast. The project is a product of La MaMa Umbria, a summer workshop and development program in Umbria, Italy. For tickets, visit lamama.org.

Also playing now is A. R. Gurney’s new play “Heresy” — a highly uncharacteristic tale about a boy named Chris who gets busted by Homeland Security and must argue his defense before a functionary named “Pontius Pilate.” Seems rather symbolically freighted. I thought Gurney only wrote about rich WASPs drinking martinis and stuff! Count me among the curious. More stars here: This one has Annette O’Toole, Kathy Najimy and Reg E. Cathey. The play runs at the Flea Theater through November 4. More info can be found at theflea.org.

One of my favorite little companies, Metropolitan Playhouse, has a revival on the boards through October 21. Written by Maxwell Anderson (“Winterset,” “What Price Glory?” and way too many others to put in parentheses), “Both Your Houses” is a Pulitzer Prize-winning satire about the corrupt morass of congressional appropriations. Written in 1933, it was subsequently eclipsed in the public’s memory by Frank Capra’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and, well, eight decades of far worse corruption and malfeasance then you’ll find depicted here. I’m a victim of completionist mania. I’ve seen the film versions of, or read, most of Anderson’s plays (they’re seldom produced anymore) — but not this one, so I’m planning to check it out. If you’d like to do the same, find out how at metropolitanplayhouse.org.

A revival of a much more recent vintage is also on the horizon. On October 4, Collective Unconscious will be remounting their smash hit “Charlie Victor Romeo” at 3LD Art & Technology Center. Let the buyer beware: “CVR,” as those in the know call it, is a harrowing experience. It literally dramatizes the cockpit voice recordings recovered from fatal airplane crashes, reconstructing the usually banal chit chat pilots and flight attendants engage in during the final minutes before all becomes quite serious…then terrifying…and then, nothing. This little show really hasn’t stopped running since it first opened in Collective’s tiny storefront headquarters back in 1999. And now co-creators Bob Berger and Patrick Daniels are looking to turn it into a film, using the new production as a springboard. I hope it doesn’t crash and burn! (Did I just type that? I typed that!) “Charlie Victor Romeo” plays through October 20. More info at 3ldnyc.org.

October 4 through 28, the Axis Company will present the premiere of a new work by writer/director Randy Sharp: “Last Man Club.” Axis has become one of my favorite companies in New York, thanks to Randy Sharp’s penchant for the bizarre, and the vaguely menacing and slightly illogical tone of her productions (which remind me somehow of both Sam Shepard and David Lynch). The current play is about a couple of strangers who mysteriously appear at an isolated farmhouse following a Depression-era dust storm, trying to sell a machine that makes rain. Rest assured, this ain’t your grandmother’s “The Rainmaker.” Get the skinny at axiscompany.org.

One of my favorite actors in New York (and coincidentally, a member of Axis) is Edgar Oliver. This month he’ll be performing a solo show of his own over at Theatre 80. “Helen and Edgar” is developed out of material he first began presenting at The Moth in 1998. It’s directed by Catherine Burns, the current director of The Moth, and is being “shepherded” (the press release tells me) by Moth founder George Dawes Green. In true Moth spirit, the show will be unscripted. Each night, Oliver will improvise its content based on true stories from his own life. The spectral yet mellifluous Oliver is one of NYC’s treasures. You would do well to see this. “Helen and Edgar” is running October 9 through 27. Get the full scoop at helenandedgar.com.

Another solo show on the boards this month will be John Jiler’s “Ripe,” running at Theater for the New City October 11-28. Actor, journalist and writer Jiler is best known (theatrically) for his a capella musical “Avenue X” (not to be confused with “Avenue Q”). He plays a dozen characters in “Ripe,” which concerns his dying father. To learn more, go to theaterforthenewcity.net.

October 24-November 10, the clown company Vagabond Inventions (in collaboration with an international partnership of artists hailing from France, Spain and Sweden) will be presenting “Under the Skiff” — which they describe as a “a lyrical clown farce exploring the human side of immigration and the struggle for connection in a foreign landscape” in which the East Village’s The Red Room is transformed into “a barren immigration office in a strange country where two naive applicants wait (and wait…) in hopes that their papers will be approved.” More details to be found at horsetrade.info.

And finally, a brief survey of some of those highly anticipated spook shows I mentioned:

Downtown impresario Timothy Haskell will be unveiling his latest edition of the Nightmare Haunted House — this one a collaboration with The Nest’s Steve Kopelman. Called “Killers,” it sends ticket buyers through a “tormenting labryrinth of various psychopaths, including Ted Bundy, Albert Fish and the Zodiac Killer.” What, no Charlie Sheen? Anyway, if this is your idea of a good time, it will be happening at the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center through November 3. Tickets and information at hauntedhousenyc.com.

Cardone the Vaudeville Magician will be re-opening his “House of Ghostly Haunts” at the Canal Park Playhouse. This “weekly celebration of the strange, the macabre and the fantastical” runs every Tuesday through December 18 and features razor blade swallowing, a guillotine illusion and something called “The Time Machine of Death.” Learn more at canalparkplayhouse.com.

Horror maven Clay McLeod Chapman has two big shows this All Hallows season. “Tales from Beyond the Pale,” a collaboration with Glass Eye Pix (the film company behind such modern classics as “I Sell the Dead”) will take place at Dixon Place the first four Tuesdays in October. The show is a live presentation of original horror plays for radio, based on Glass Eye’s very successful studio series, which has featured the voices of stars such as Ron Perlman and Vincent D’Onofrio. More details are at talesfrombeyondthepale.com. This month will also briefly revive his Downtown variety series “The Pumpkin Pie Show” — at UNDER St. Marks, with “The Pumpkin Pie Show: Halloween All Stars.” The show will feature readings of some of Chapman’s spookier stories read by the likes of himself, Abe Goldfarb (sometimes known as popular burlesque host Bastard Keith) and Hanna Cheek and Kevin Townley of “Agatha Christie’s The Secret Adversary” — a terrific web series. “The Pumpkin Pie Show” will be up October 25-27. Information at horsetrade.info and claymcleodchapman.com.

Also at UNDER St. Marks Place every Sunday at 3pm, October 11 through December 30, Radio Theatre will be presenting “The Haunting of St. Marks Place” — a live radio presentation of purportedly true tales of horrible happenings that took place not far from the very theater in which you will sit! Ghostly visitations, gangland shootouts, serial killers and “a man who inherits 22 St. Marks Place, along with a screaming skull.” Hmm…I’d contest the will! Tickets and more information: radiotheatrenyc.com.

Lastly, two quick plugs for things to do on the night of October 31 itself. At the Kraine Theater, one can catch “The Blood Brothers…Reanimate” — a “best of” compilation of some of the scary Grand Guignol-style one acts their group Nosedive Productions has presented over the years. More info at nosedive productions.com. And, if you prefer a party, you could do far worse than Theater for the New City’s legendary annual blow-out, the “Village Halloween Costume Ball” which takes up the entirety of their four-theater facility and spills out onto the adjacent streets. Learn more about that one at theaterforthenewcity.net.

Happy haunting!

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