Saturday, October 30, 2021

"Theatre of the Macabre" at Park Square Theatre

Last year, during the very long intermission from live theater, Park Square Theatre presented a virtual cabaret of Halloween-themed songs and stories called Theatre of the Macabre. This year, they're able to present the show in person in their historic downtown St. Paul space (with the help of vaccines and masks), but only for two nights! It was so great to be back at Park Square for this taste of good things to come (they're hosting a few other companies this fall and officially opening their season with a remount of Marie and Rosetta in January). Theatre of the Macabre is a truly delightful, and at times disturbing, evening of songs and stories, like an elevated version of gathering around a campfire to tell spooky tales. Tickets remain for tonight's show; click here for all the details.

Our charming and affable host for the evening is Craig Johnson, who also directs the show. He introduces each piece, offers commentary on what we've just seen, and even invites audience members to come up onstage and tell a spooky story of their own. The show begins with the iconic three witches scene from Shakespeare's Macbeth ("double, double, toil and trouble; fire burn and caldron bubble") and continues with both classic and original pieces. The talented ensemble includes Anna Leverett (portraying the ever more frantic woman at the center of the short story "The Yellow Wallpaper"), David Mann (performing a truly diabolical piece that he wrote), Hope Nordquist (gorgeously singing a few spooky songs, accompanied by Natalia Peterson on keyboard, who also provides a soundscape for the show), Taj Ruler (reading a funny, smart, and relevant piece about her fascination with witchcraft as a teenager), Sophina Saggau (performing a chilling scene from Dracula, among others), and Ben Shaw (with a frightening "Tell-Tale Heart"). It's a well-curated show that balances laughs, pleasant chills, and true horror.

The show is performed on the Andy Boss Thrust Stage in the basement of the historic Hamm Building, with the three-sided performance space providing a more intimate gathering-around-the-campfire feel. Props and set pieces are minimal, just a narrow bed and a chair. The lighting effects (designed by Sarah Bauer) are fantastic, not just the spooky shadow figures behind the large white canvas at the back of the stage, but also in the way that the stage goes completely black after a scene, then the lights come up on a completely different scene or performer, an effective punctuation of each separate little story.

Theatre of the Macabre is a fun way to welcome in this Halloweekend, as well as celebrate theater's return to West 7th Place in downtown St. Paul.