Terror Tales: Murder in New York!

10/24/2012 4:00 AM |

In Warehouse, theater company Ugly Rhino has above all made great use of the building. The Lyceum, a creepily crumbling former public bath on the Gowanus-Park Slope border, has opened up all of its floors for this guided site-specific production (through Nov 1); it’s not at every event here that you get to walk around and hang out both upstairs and downstairs. With the audience split into groups, as many as four women, ghosts who met violent ends at this bathhouse-turned-nightclub(-turned-theater), serve as narrators and also ferry you from room to room; you’re not free to roam as in Sleep No More because a narrative unfolds deliberately. You watch one scene while the other groups watch others, and then you switch, the actors repeating the scenes; it was like being in a multiplex where the same movie was playing in every theater, the showtimes slightly staggered.

Warehouse tells a hammy tale of kidnapping and blackmail featuring two-bit Mafiosi, councilmembers and crooked cops. (The program notes the show is fictional but “inspired by tales about the Gowanus neighborhood and [the club] Public Bath #7 during the 1970s and 1980s.”) Jennifer McVey, as the drugged and bound councilman’s daughter, was the standout, though I think she benefited from the tininess of the room in which she was locked: the closer you can get to actors in these kinds of productions, the more striking the effect. (Props too to Michael Bernstein as the club owner: while anxiously on a phone call, a siren-blaring ambulance passed by outside on Fourth Avenue; he looked nervously out the window, then improvised into the receiver, “no, no, it’s nothing.”) The actors really relished their Italian-American archetypes—characters include Gina, Vicky, Nicky and Dom—which took me a few scenes to get used to. Either that, or I lightened up as the night went on—three cocktails come free with your ticket.

Under St. Marks, a neat basement space near Tompkins Square, may not have such a curated cocktails program, but they do have a small bar where you can buy a beer to drink in your seat. And The Haunting of St. Marks Place (Sundays through year’s end) is the sort of show you want to enjoy with a drink in your hand—although a warm brandy might be more appropriate. Radiotheatre expertly recreates the old-time aesthetic of the bygone medium for which it’s named while engaging the senses beyond the auditory: a smoke machine and modest lighting design enhance the spooky mood. The show is self-aware without being apologetic or embarrassed—without hiding behind irony.

Heading an exceptional cast, emcee Frank Zilinyi, strikingly Wellesian in both appearance and speech, narrates in his sonorous baritone an evening’s worth of Gothic New York scary stories, all set in hotel rooms, apartments and townhouses along the very street you’re on. They trade on the signifiers of 19th- and early 20th-century horror: fog-shrouded streets, eccentric old Germans, modernist piano music, candles, wooden buildings, back-alley murders, human skulls, a Monkey’s Paw, and exotic foreign accents. Though Haunting and Warehouse tell fictional stories set in the past, they’re both rooted in the real violence that has always been a fact of city life. And what’s scarier than being reminded of that?