Review: Wildclaw Theatre Presents Deathscribe 2015
Whenever December rolls around I get excited for the annual Deathscribe radio play extravaganza from Wildclaw Theatre. This is the eighth year they’ve been hosting this party and TerrorDave Fuentes and I trekked up to the wilds of the northside of Chicago to enjoy an evening of laughs and gasps at the Mayne Stage.
The judges for this year’s competition were Martin Atkins, Deanna Dunagan, Ike Holter, Brian Pinkerton, Christopher Hainsworth, Brett Sechrist, and Kevin Theis.
Written by Tim Griffin
Directed by Elly Green
A mother who is 10 years sober is having a conversation with her young daughter Lily Rose. Lily Rose is telling her about Tom Tom her imaginary friend. Tom Tom is a boy who smells like the lawn. Lily Rose gets more of her mom’s history when Tom Tom tells her to ask mom about “Caleb”. Things suddenly take a dark turn.
Review: This story was good. I felt the ending was a bit predictable, but the plot did a good job of building up the tension of the story. It was a horror story after all – Tom Tom wasn’t going to turn out to be a guardian angel or anything like that!
Rating: I put it at 4. It wasn’t bad – it just didn’t stand out amongst some of the other stronger contenders.
Bad Things Happen Here
Written by Eric Marlin
Directed by Melanie keller
Two old ladies are looking out their front window. One is fixated on some dogs outside the house, the other fixated on having tea in the garden. Halfway through the play, we change point of view to two men in the garden looking into the house. They are fixated on the two “bitches” in the window.
Review: My first reaction at the end of this play was WTF. There was no actual plot; it was 5 minutes of two women repeating phrases over and over, and then two men repeating phrases over and over. I just felt an immense feeling of relief when it was over. I am not a fan of that kind of repetition, and I don’t really know what the point of the whole thing was.
Rating: This was definitely number 5. The other 4 plays were vastly superior to this one.
Back in Baby’s Arms
Written by Travis Williams
Directed by Breahan Eve Pautsch
Carly and Ricky are in a motel room bickering about the kids. Wait a minute – those are not their kids. Apparently they kidnap children! Their latest victim is a little girl they have chained up in the bathroom. Carly goes in to talk to the girl. Instead of being afraid, the girl simply says they are going to die. Carly scoffs, saying “they always threaten us”. Ricky is not so sure. We learn a little more about their sordid past before Carly and Ricky realize the girl is telling the truth!
Review: This was great. The performances by the actors playing Carly and Ricky were perfect – an awesome combination of humor and horror. The story unfolded nicely. Other than the fact you know you are hearing a horror story, it starts out very innocently – two people in a motel with their children. Then it starts ramping up when you realize they are kidnappers – and they’ve done this before. Then you learn these are not their only crimes! You somehow don’t feel so bad when Carly and Ricky get their comeuppance.
Rating: Number 1. I vacillated a little bit between this one and Earwigs being first – but I think the combination of horror and humor (which they both had) combined with a stronger story put this one on top for me. The humor in this play was within the story itself and within the voice acting of the actors, not their physicality. Another thing that I liked about this play was that we were actually in the story – it wasn’t being narrated, nor were we hearing a monologue. I can understand why that is a go-to technique for a playwright when they can’t depend on any physical performance, but it can put walls between the story and the audience. This play didn’t do that, and it was very strong because of it.
Too Many Teeth
Written by Axel Arth
Directed by Leigh Barrett
The owner of a diner in a deserted area starts telling a patron the story of why her diner doesn’t serve meat. Apparently sometime in the past a circus came to the local area. One of the entertainers, Dr. Mortabit, was pushing a snake oil remedy with dubious benefits – it will return humanity back to what it should be. The diner owner was dubious about the Doctor, especially because he seemed to have too many teeth. Her son Tommy falls under his sway. He soon returns to mom and he also seems to have too many teeth – as do many of the children of the town. Where have all the other parents – and animals – of the area gone?
Review: This was a good take on a zombie-style story. It has a slight twist ending as well which was unexpected. I thought it would be a straightforward everyone gets killed and the diner is the last haven in the area – but not so much!
Rating: Number 3. This one and my numbers 1 and 2 all had very strong stories that each could have been number 1 if that was my only criteria. When I factor in other elements of the performance, this one comes in at number 3. This one was more of a narrated story than an in-the-moment story. That one step removed from the main action is what drops this down to number 3.
Written by Joseph Zettelmaier
Directed by Sara Sevigny
Amber and Sarah are a couple who have just bought a cottage in the country. Sarah suffers from anxiety; Amber is fun loving and full of life. She is hoping Sarah can cope with her anxiety better in a calmer environment. When they check out the basement they find it is full of earwigs. Sarah freaks out, believing the old wives’ tale that they burrow in your ears, but Amber tries to assure her that it isn’t true. When Sarah thinks she sees one going into Amber’s ear at night, she starts to fall apart. She hears chewing in the walls, and thinks Amber is acting differently – as if she is controlled by the earwigs themselves, covering up for their activity. Things start to spiral out of control to an explosive ending.
Review: Another great story. Like Back in Baby’s Arms, this one combined some humor with the slow-building horror. You wonder how much of Amber’s changed personality is possibly earwig-related like Sarah thinks, and how much is just her tiring of Sarah’s delusions. The actors really sold the situation as it spiraled out of control. It was a wonderful choice to end the evening.
Rating: This was my number 2 – but it was a strong contender for number 1. I think what pushed it down to number 2 is that I think a lot of the positive response it got from me and the audience was from the physical acting and watching the sound effects work. It was really funny to see the actors playing the roles – in looking back a lot of the humor was not from the story itself. It also had a strong element of narration/monologue to it that distances the listener from the action, and that lowers the horror level down a notch.
There were several musical performances throughout the evening. Moira Begale sang “Back in Baby’s Arms” by Patsy Cline (yes, after the play with the same name – the song was featured). Norine McGrath sang “The Killing Type” by Amanda Palmer. Micheala Petro closed the evening with a rocking performance of “SOB” by Nathaniel Ratecliff.
The judge’s results were mostly what I expected. Earwigs won first place. In an interesting twist, we had a tie for second place (so no third place) – Back in Baby’s Arms and Imaginary Fiend. Congratulations to all involved!
I think this is the closest I’ve come to matching what the judges chose. Maybe next year!
On our drive home, Dave and I had our usual debrief. As I mentioned in my rating of Earwigs, I felt that a lot of the humor was simply from watching both the actors playing their parts and (my personal bugaboo) watching the Foley artists work their magic. So we had an idea on how to really judge which one is “best”. We would love to have these plays recorded on audio, then a few months later just sit and listen to them. There would be no distractions from the physical performance or from watching two people feverishly chew on celery or pop balloons.
That would be the real test of what actually holds up as a “radio play” – and which of the 5 is really number 1.
So that wraps up another successful Deathscribe. If you can make it, I highly recommend snagging a ticket for the 2016 show. It’s always lots of fun. See you there!