Wildclaw Theatre Presents Motel 666

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Motel 666 presented by Wildclaw Theatre

Directed by Scott Cummins

After watching Wildclaw Theatre’s latest work Motel 666, a 7-play anthology based around a creepy hotel room, Terror Dave Fuentes said serveral times that he was reminded of old EC Comics series like Tales from the Crypt. Horror stories are particularly well adapted for short form stories since many revolve around archetypal characters and themes. The murderer facing karmic justice; the innocent person getting into serious trouble after touching an evil object; the monster in the basement taking an unsuspecting home owner by surprise.

The anthology format has worked very well for Wildclaw in their annual radio play competition Deathscribe, so it seems a logical progression to apply the same format to fully staged plays.

All seven stories revolve around an obscure motel and the customers who check in to Room 6. Two motel employees, the Maid and the Clerk, appear in every story in some capacity. They add a cohesiveness to the play that prevents the stories from seeming too disjointed.

The show opens with the Maid and the Clerk discussing Room 6. The lights are shining in the room, but neither motel employee turned them on. There is always something strange going on in Room 6!

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John Ross Wilson and Michaela Petro in The Hunters

The Hunters

Written by Christopher M. Walsh

Starring John Ross Wilson as Richard, Michaela Petro as Leslie

A pair of paranormal investigators check in to Room 6 to investigate the motel because of its unusual circumstances – there are no stories about the motel despite all the disappearances that have happened there. Every town has stories, they say, mentioning Chicago’s Resurrection Mary as an example. Richard is a psychic and feels the spiritual energies in the room fluctuate. He pulls the Gideon Bible out of the nightstand, but it doesn’t look like any Bible he’s ever seen. Leslie sees a very different book, and that leads to a dangerous situation.

Review: This was a good way to start an anthology show. The investigators tell us that there are stories of missing folks going back years, and yet no urban legends of any kind crop up around them. I think it helps set up how seriously twisted the motel is and these are not the kind of horror stories that end with the heroine walking away after conquering evil. Terror Dave Fuentes thought this story would work just as well as the closing story in the play as it does at the beginning. They could have mentioned the names of the other stories’ characters to tie it all together.

Sirens

Written by Michaela Petro

Starring Mike Rice as Jack and Katie McLean Hainsworth, Stevie Chaddock, and Kathryn Acosta as the Sirens

Jack checks in to Room 6, which is already occupied by three mysterious women. They start interrogating him. Where is his wife Sylvie? What is in his suitcase? Why is there blood on the knife he has with him?

Review: This was a rather basic story, of a bad guy facing ultimate justice. The character of Jack isn’t fully developed, so I didn’t feel strongly  about what happened to him. However, it works as a good palette cleanser between the meatier stories that precede and follow it.

Chair of Death

Written by Brett Neveu

Starring Dave Belden as James

James had checked in to Room 6 the day before and hit the pub. The Maid and the Clerk find him sitting in a chair on top of his bed. They need him to clear out of the room since it has been rebooked. He refuses to leave the chair since “the man in the pub” has told him the story of this chair – which mysteriously appeared in his room after the pub night. The man in the pub told James the story of this chair which belonged to a man named Thomas Busby. Busby had made a deal with a demon and ended up dying. A story grew up around this chair that anyone who sat in it would die.

James didn’t die when he sat in the chair, and now is convinced if he gets out of the chair he will die. The Maid and the Clerk argue with him that the real Busby chair is in Great Britain, so how could it possibly be dangerous to get out of the chair?

Review: I loved this play. The Maid and the Clerk played a major role in this story, and the back and forth with James was absolutely delightful. Almost every sentence ended with “sir”. “We’ve rebooked the room, sir”, “I won’t get up, sir”. The story was really interesting and strange with a great ending. This is a play that would work wonderfully as a radio play as well. My second favorite show of the night!

Hanger-On

Written by Scott T. Barsotti

Starring Maura Kidwell as Gemma, Kathryn Acosta as Clea, Nick Freed as Taylor

Gemma is the next person to check in to Room 6. She convinces the Maid to get her a bottle of wine so she doesn’t have to go out and do it herself. She makes a call to her sister Clea. Gemma, Clea, and their friend Taylor will be going over the border to Canada to meet a woman who will help Clea with her mysterious condition. They are leaving the next day.

Taylor brings Clea ahead of schedule to the motel room – she’s in a bad state. She appears to be covered in slime and mumbling incoherently. Taylor is incredulous when Gemma tells him they are going to meet with a demonologist in Canada.  Gemma thinks that Clea is suffering from a relationship with a demon, not from a drug addiction. The situation deteriorates quickly.

Review: This was a well-developed story – I liked the plot and it was an interesting twist on how to deal with a family member affected by a demon. The real stand out was Maura Kidwell’s performance. Terror Dave Fuentes and I couldn’t stop talking about it on our way home. She felt so real, so authentic as a human being, that I could forget that I was watching a play!

When I first moved to Chicago and started attending a lot of live theater, one thing that always struck me is how strange it felt to see real people on a stage vs. on TV or in a movie. Even the best plays have an artificiality to them that is something you have to just get used to seeing. That artificiality wasn’t there with Kidwell’s performance and I ended up rooting for her when the situation with her sister goes belly up. Definitely a highlight of the whole night!

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Mike Rice, Katie McLean Hainsworth, Stevie Chaddock, and Kathryn Acosta in Sirens

The Bridal Suite

Written by Ele Matelan

Starring Michaela Petro as Marcy, Stevie Chaddock as Corry, Maura Kidwella as Chelsea, Kathryn Acosta as Gina

We go back to the 1980s to visit the next residents of Room 6. Corry, Marcy, and Gina are throwing a bachelorette party for their friend Chelsea. Corry has set up the food in the bathroom and decorated the room. When Chelsea shows up, we find out what is really going to happen at this party – and it involves her ex Steve.

Review: Terror Dave Fuentes liked this play more than I did. They did an excellent job with setting up the feeling of the 1980s, with the clothes, hair, makeup, and music – but so much so that for me it overshadowed the actual story. On the other hand, I had no idea where the story was going so the ending came as a fun surprise.

The Fourth Wall

Written by Christopher Hainsworth

Starring Mike Rice as Carl, Katie McLean Hainsworth as Linda

Carl and Linda check in to Room 6 on their way home from a funeral. They are surprised to see a huge painting (we find out later it is a mural painted directly on the wall) – and Linda finds it disturbing, describing it as full of “malevolent trees”. The painting on the opposite wall is Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth, and Linda starts feeling a connection between the mural and the Wyeth painting (Christina’s World).

The feelings brought up by the large painting cause Linda to start remembering her childhood more and more. Her parents had been killed in an accident and she was raised by her aunt – but was that really what happened? Carl tries to calm Linda down, thinking her deterioration is due to her grief after the funeral. However, he soon discovers Linda’s statement that “photos capture a moment in time, art creates something” proves all too true.

Review: Hands down my favorite play of the night. This was quite a bit longer than the other plays, and this gave it some breathing room to build the characters. For the second time the realness of the characters shone through. Carl and Linda felt like a real couple, married for 20 years, feeling the burdens and pressures of so many years together.

Katie Hainsworth did an outstanding job showing Linda’s slow breakdown. She started out as a strong, take charge woman who became overwhelmed by the long-forgotten memories of her childhood that were stirred up by the malevolent painting.

I would have ended the show with this play. Its length and complexity felt like the culmination of the evening rather than just one of several stories.

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Natalie DiCristofano, Dave Belden, and Tony St. Clair in The Chair

Coulrophobe

Written by Joseph Zettelmaier

Starring John Ross Wilson as Benny, Dave Belden as Bellamy

Benny is our final resident of Room 6. He comes out of the bathroom with his clown makeup and hair still on. He tries to call his ex-wife to talk to his child, but she won’t let him. He suffers from audio hallucinations, hearing music in his head. He is startled when his reflection starts talking to him – and leaves the mirror. His great grandfather was also a clown and is very disappointed with Benny’s abuse of his son and general lechery. Three more clowns come out of the mirror, begin to sing, and Benny faces some clown-style justice.

Review: After the peak of The Fourth Wall, this play felt anti-climactic. The over-the-top nature of the clowns and their singing didn’t have much impact on me at all. This story also felt unnecessary to the entire evening as it is essentially identical to The Sirens.

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Tony St. Clair, Natalie DiCristofano

The show ends with the Maid and the Clerk repeating part of their opening dialogue about the vagaries of Room 6.

Overall it was a great evening of horror theater. The connecting roles of the Maid and the Clerk tied the stories together in a nice way. At first I was disturbed by Natalie DiCristofano’s performance as the Maid – she seemed stilted – but Terror Dave Fuentes said he was reminded of Magenta from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Since she and the Clerk are both ageless (they look the same in the 80s’ The Bridal Suite as they do throughout all the other stories), they are clearly some kind of undead creatures, so her performance started to make more and more sense. She really grew on me!

A fun aspect of the stage work is that most of the set dressing was done by the actors themselves, in costume. The many victims of room 6 remain in the room forever…

Terror Dave Fuentes and I had an animated discussion on the way home about the possibilities of the format. It is impossible to miss the parallels of Motel 666 with Wildclaw’s annual Deathscribe shows. We could easily see Motel 666 becoming a regular vehicle for short form plays – and maybe with an award component!

With seven different stories there is something here for every horror fan.

The show continues through June 28.

DCASE Storefront Theatre, 66 E. Randolph Street, with shows ThursdaySaturday at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2:00pm.

Read interviews with various cast and crew at Wildclaw Theatre

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