How Best to Describe “Deathscribe!”

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Not long after I became familiar with Chicago’s Wildclaw Theater, I’d been told that their annual December Deathscribe event was not to be missed! While horror isn’t something most folks gravitate towards this time of year (unless, of course, you count holiday shopping), leave it to this talented crew to toss conventional wisdom out the door and host one of the most unique, terror-filled evenings imaginable!

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This past year, aspiring writers submitted their own original 10 minute radio plays in the hopes of seeing them reach a “Live” audience. Deathscribe provides them this rare opportunity by having the five chosen, finalist plays performed one night only courtesy of Wildclaw’s gifted cast. At the end of the night, the winner walks away with their coveted “Bloody Axe Award.” Having attended their last two stage productions (Kill Me and Clive Barker’s The Life of Death), I anticipated this evening like a proverbial kid on Christmas morning! Yes, I admit my expectations were pretty high but I’m pleased to report that Deathscribe not only met, but exceeded them!

Joined by my friend, Elizabeth Ocon, we headed up to Chicago’s Mayne Stage, a bi-level theater/lounge offering optimal viewing from every angle along with an attentive staff taking food/beverage orders . We took our seats as a band performed an entertaining mixture of jazz, rock, and funk music. The crowd appeared to be an eclectic mix with most people dressed casual, including one man donned in his Bela Lagosi/Dracula shirt.

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The night’s emcee was Brian Amidei, managing director of Wildclaw and someone I’d had the privilege of meeting last year after attending their production of Kill Me (story HERE). “This is the most wonderful time of the year,” said Amidei. “Especially if you’re monsters, ghosts, goblins, and Satan…er Santa!” After providing the audience with a humorous introduction to Deathscribe, he mentioned the importance of horror and how “being scared reminds us that we’re alive.”

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Before the plays commenced, Scott Barsotti (whom we interviewed HERE) took the stage along with Ele Matelan to perform a hilarious skit involving a phone conversation between he and his grandmother (Nana). Needless to say, there were plenty of laughs as he tried explaining to her what Wildclaw Theatre was all about; an especially daunting task in lieu of Nana’s misinterpretation of the word “horror” with “whore.” The crowd, now suitably warmed up, was at last prepared for the first 2012 Deathscribe play to begin…

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Radio Play #1: An Abstract Thought with Sinister Intentions dealt with a group of friends enjoying a night of card-playing before each suddenly experiences the sensation of Deja Vu. This phenomena is revealed to be anything but a coincidence as they soon learn they’re victims of an ancient, malevolent force; using them like puppets while replaying the same ten minutes over and over. One of the performers featured in this entry was Michaela Petro, whom I’m fan-obsessed with. She’s one of Wildclaw’s star performers and Elizabeth I both agreed that she’s not only talented, she has that rare “star quality” you hear mentioned on The Biography Channel.

399234_10151280518967988_1602778891_nMichaela Petro

Though naturally expressive and energetic, this woman can command your full attention while just standing there. Goal for 2013: start a Michaela Petro Fan Club!

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Commercial #1: After the first play had ended, Amidei returned to the stage to promote one of Deathscribe’s local sponsors, Dry Hop Brewers! This modern business was given a retro-ad make-over, highlighted by the appetizing image of a pig’s head next to bottles of beer. Listeners were encouraged to check them out and indulge in their famous seasonal brew, “Fearless Vampire Hunter Stout!”

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Radio Play #2: A man and woman choose the absolute WORST place to rob in The Wall, written by Travis Williams. The would-be thieves, having witnessed a local “man” parading large wads of cash, assumes there’s more where that came from and stakes out his home (which they fail to notice during pre-planning is also dark, isolated, and creepy as hell). Unfortunately, their would-be victim is less wealthy than he is an inhuman killer who keeps people (meat) chained up for occasional snacking. Their body parts are carefully removed and then mended in an effort to keep them fresh. While this story would, no doubt, be a great fit in Hollywood today, I thought scaling it back to radio was much more effective. Prior to Deathscribe, I’d always counted myself lucky to have been born in the television era as opposed to the radio days. Now, having an opportunity to utilize my imagination, I was no longer so sure…

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Commercial #2: Four actresses (including Michaela Petro whom, did I mention, is awesome?) took the stage to perform a skit highlighting Four Moon Tavern in Chicago. Ms Petro played the snarky proprietor attempting to serve an annoying group of diners. This irreverent, endorsement ended with Amidei telling listeners that if they’re “too chicken shit to go inside (the tavern), visit their website.”
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Radio Play #3: With the Mayan clock ticking (at the time of this post, we’re only a couple weeks away from prophesized calamity) Christoper M. Walsh’s Comparing Notes at the End of the World was a timely addition. A group of stragglers are “herded” by mysterious winged creatures to an old Church after the world, as they know it, has ceased to exist. Rather than the usual doomsday suspects (meteors, earthquakes, and volcanoes), Walsh sees Armageddon as nothing short of a quantum physics lesson gone awry! The random survivors share their own stories of what happened at the moments of the “Ripple” which, in one woman’s case, involved her world literally being turned upside down and her beloved Pomeranian transforming into a tooth-riddled monster. Lots of great humor was featured in this installment and Deathscribe’s first wave a performances ended on a high note!
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INTERMISSION: Just prior to half-time, Casey Cunningham & Matt Kahler performed a wonderful duet which, although not listed in the program, I’m fairly certain was titled “I want you.” Cunningham is Barsotti’s wife and has one hell of a voice to match her limitless talent! She was the star of The Life of Death and also a prominent player in Kill Me, though this would mark the first time I’d have the honor of hearing her sing. As for the song’s content, anybody who has a tendency to become a little too obsessive may want to use this as their new ring tone.
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When the music ended, Elizabeth and I had a chance to discuss what we’d just seen. At this point, we both agreed that our favorite was Comparing Notes at the End of the World. “The vignettes of how the three people were affected by ‘that day’ were visual, arresting, and eerie,” said Elizabeth. “I felt like it packed a huge amount of story in its 10 minutes.” Just before the show resumed, Mallory Nees performed a cabaret-style number which chided her fellow females (whom she referred to as “stupid little whores) for often making themselves easy prey for all the rippers and stranglers of the world.
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 Radio Play #4: A Mexican novella-type story was featured in El Grito de Rose.  Despite my last name, I’m fairly out of touch with my Latino culture but I think that means “Cry of the Rose.” Jessica Wright Buha’s story dealt with a schmoozy married couple; the man crippled and the wife growing roses to support them. Their tranquility is threatened when a mysterious stranger arrives and decides that he’s less interested in flowers than he is in obtaining their beautiful owner. Needless to say, things take a bloody turn and continue to get worse. This is one story where, regardless of its title, things don’t come up roses. Peppered throughout the story is ethnic music and dramatic touches customary of the genre.
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Radio Play #5: In this monster-lover’s opinion, Deathscribe saved the best for last! Joseph Zettelmaier’s “Fish Story” featured three men ogling their pal’s latest catch; a hideous fish-like creature that’s either “a new species or a really old one.” Assuming that it might be worth money (while waiting out inclement weather) the creature is kept alive in a bath-tub where the light keeps its subdued. Of course we never “see” this animal, but it’s described as looking like a deep sea angler with mysterious holes on its belly. When the storm cuts off their electricity, the fish becomes more aggressive and breaks free of the tub before going on the attack –  those aforementioned holes sprouting spider-like appendages for terrestrial use. Color me biased, but anytime you feature a dinosaur-monster-fish in a story, it automatically gets my vote. Aside from that, it was well written, imaginative, and humorous; with many laughs courtesy of the sound effects…
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One of the things that REALLY added to the entire radio show feel was the great “sounds” created in front of the audience via Ali Renee Amidei, Sarah Espinoza, and Ele Matelan.  Whether they were chomping on celery or dumping soup in a bucket (to mimic the sound of vomiting) their role afforded them little opportunity to sit still the entire night. Hats off to these ladies for enhancing the entire show!
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The judges deliberated as Pat Smillie performed a lively rendition of “Haunted House” by Jumpin’ Gene Simmons (no not the one from KISS). Elizabeth stuck to her guns and felt that Comparing Notes at the End of the World should bring home the “Axe” while I felt that Fish Story had tipped the scales. And the winner is…
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Fish Story! Yes, the judges agreed that a fish out of water was a perfect fit for Deathscribe! Joseph Zettelmaier happily accepted his well-deserved award and, having not prepared a speech, looked awestruck at the entire venue before raising his hands and asking, “How incredible is this???” His reaction was genuine and certainly shared by any new-comers like myself. An amazing night of monsters, mayhem, and some of most incredible talent imaginable.
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And that, my friends, is probably the best way one can describe Deathscribe.
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Dave Fuentes~
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