Three tales of grotesque take the stage at Acrosstown


“The Monkey’s Paw” with, from left, Chuck Lipsig, George O’Brien and Rachel Wayne, is one of three classic tales featured in the new production “Fright Night,” opening Friday at the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre.

Elise Giordano/Correspondent
Published: Thursday, October 10, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, October 8, 2013 at 4:40 p.m.

For the Halloween season, the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre wants to scare people.

Facts

‘Fright Night’

What: Adaptations of three classic tales to celebrate the Halloween season
When: Opens Friday with a preview at 8 tonight, showtimes are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 27
Where: Acrosstown Repertory Theater, 619 S. Main St.
Cost: $10 general admission seating
Info: 234-6278, Acrosstown.org

However, it won’t be the usual fare, with ghouls and goblins and things that go bump in the night: the ART’s new show revolves around the truly terrible things in life.

“Fright Night,” which opens Friday and runs through Oct. 27, features fully staged retellings of three classic tales of the macabre. Although the stories are more than a century old, director Jerry Rose said each relates to the timeless theme of the darker side of human nature.

“These things can easily happen to people,” he said. “It’s not supernatural: these are some natural situations that living creates.”

In the 12 years Rose has been with the Acrosstown, this is the theater’s first Halloween-themed production, he said.

Two of the plays are stories by Edgar Allen Poe that Rose adapted for stage. In “The Tell-Tale Heart,” a seriously disturbed man plots to murder his elder housemate simply because he doesn’t like the look of his eye. “The Masque of the Red Death” depicts a 15th century prince who, while in self-confinement against a plague that ravages the country, holds a masquerade ball that ends in disaster.

Rose has adapted written works for stage before, most recently creating a retelling of a Mark Twain story for the ART’s September “Dark Nights” production.

The third “Fright Night” play, “The Monkey’s Paw,” was adapted from a W.W. Jacobs short story in the early 1900s. A classic take on the adage “be careful what you wish for,” the play depicts a British couple who is given a monkey’s paw that grants three wishes, though each comes with a price.

“It reflects a world or culture where people are so dissatisfied with their fortune that they resort to efforts to improve their situation by buying lottery tickets, making bad investments, or even resorting to criminal behavior,” Rose said.

In the adaptations, Rose said he kept the original periods and locations of the source material intact. However, he said much of the dialogue he wrote was informed by current issues, especially in the “Masque of the Red Death,” in which the wealthy are able to protect themselves from the plague while the poor suffer.

“I didn’t hesitate to use the language of the one percent and the 99 percent that we hear so much of today,” he said. “The people outside the gates of privilege want to come in, but they can’t.”

The production brought some challenges — creating believable recreations of medieval Italy, an 1849 Baltimore prison and a house in the 19th century British countryside — all in the same evening, Rose said. Thanks to the ingenuity of the production team, however, “Fright Night” overcame the snags, he said.

“George O’Brien, the set designer, convinced me that he should paint stones on the walls,” said Rose. “It turned out that worked beautifully with all three shows: any one of them could be set in stone.”

Acrosstown production manager Rachel Wayne, who designed costumes and sound for “Fright Night” and also plays parts in two of the plays, said several special effects help bring the plays to life.

“We created a very convertible set,” she said. “We use a lot of the same furniture in each play, but we transform it.”

Wayne said the show’s ability to hit close to home is its main strength.

“It’s all very spooky and creepy, but there’s an element of humanity in each one,” she said.

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