If you think Halloween theater is nothing but splatter, improv and endless variations on Dracula, think again. Sure, there are more than enough zombie musicals and heartsick bloodsuckers out there to satisfy the traditionalists, but if you're the type that needs a new, impossibly clever costume every year, look around. The Chicago off-loop community has a world of ways to get in the unholy spirit.
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Through October 31 at City Lit
A spook show of an altogether more literary bent, "Sleepy Hollow" brings City Lit's trademark text-based adaptation style to an all-Hallows classic. Washington Irving's tale of a 19th century geek and a pumpkin-headed freak will be brought to life by one actor, one musician and one foley artist. Perfect for those who want chills without gore.
Through October 30 at the Cornservatory
Get splattered and plastered at this brilliantly moronic distillation of the Halloween season. It's a game, and it's simple: watch a series of ultra-violent sketches. Whenever a character bites it, drink. BYOB and plenty of it. The body count in the Cornservatory will be high.
The Rocky Horror Show
Through October 30 at Stage 773
If you must. NightBlue offers a somewhat more live version of the midnight movie institution. It's got all the sweet transvestites, gorgeous monsters and catchy tunes of the film, but in glorious 3D! (3D: the oldest technology in entertainment.) Costumes are encouraged, and audience participation is practically mandated.
Axe Lizzie and The Possession of Alice Von Truskin
Through October 31 at Prop Theatre
Grand Guignol, the 19th century equivalent of torture porn, was a theater based on gore, depravity and plenty of pig's blood. Cock and Bull revives the inglorious tradition for a double bill of old-fashioned gross. "The Possession of Alice Von Truskin" is about a Victorian teen with a devil problem. "Axe Lizzie" depicts the graphic exploits of the inimitable Ms. Borden.
The Magic Parlour
At the Chopin
These tricks are a treat! Forgive the pun, but magician Dennis Watkins has restored our sense of childlike wonder. Sly and charming, with flawless prestidigitation skills, he presides over the coziest, most mind-boggling Friday night in town. Just have a seat in the appealingly boudoir-ish couches of the Chopin's downstairs lobby, and prepare to gape.
Nightmares on Lincoln Ave Too - Totally Tubular Tales of Terror
Through October 31 at the Cornservatory
Quake, 80s pop culture hegemony! The children of the '90s are on the rise. The latest Halloween show from the Cornservatory draws on the rich heritage of Nickelodeon, parodying beloved ephemera from "Troll 2" to "Are You Afraid of the Dark" to "Goosebumps." Pair with trick or treating for the perfect evening of regression.
Dracula: A Tragedy
Through October 31 at Redtwist
Cozy up to the Lord of the Night. Drac shows are often rather large affairs, but this new adaptation of the Bram Stoker novel promises a greater intimacy. In fact, given Redtwist's famously parlor-sized performance space, you might end up sitting in the bloodsucker's lap.
Choose Thine Own Adventure
Through December 11 at the Underground Lounge
If your costumes always involve corsets and never involve fake blood, perchance you will favor this interactive show from Filament. The young company, founded in '06, plans to bring the raucous groundling spirit back to Shakespeare. How? With booze, a Wrigleyville bar setting, and audience participation.
October 28-30 at ComedySportz
Child-safe but not necessarily aimed at children, this show is a safe bet for anyone whose Halloween will have to focus on the family. It's the 'sportz's usual, fast-paced short form competition, with candy, a seasonal theme and a PG rating. For the improvisers, that might be the scariest thing of all.
Salem! The Musical
Through November 13 at the Annoyance
Fringe-tested, Chicago approved. If you need a wacky Halloween-themed evening out, you could do a lot worse than this musical, a 2009 hit which subsequently toured the Midwest festival circuit. It's a rollicking, jazz-hands take on a time of panic and persecution, delivered with the Annoyance's trademark f'ed up buoyancy.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Through 10/31 at the Morton Arboretum
Take a walk with the classic horror tale about how every upstanding man has an internal monster who didn't bother to get a medical degree. Theatre-Hikes, as always, combines friendly outdoor drama with the lush landscapes of the Morton Arboretum. Catch it before the Chicago climate shows its nasty side.
The Seven Snakes
Through November 6 at 4001 N. Ravenswood Avenue
The notoriously grimy-minded Mammals have bred another hybrid genre play. This post-apocalyptic Western follows a young woman caught up in a conflict between a group called "Octogenarian Veterans of Foreign Desert Wars" and the titular gang of masked gunmen. It's sure to be a somewhat unsettling good time.
The Lady's Not For Burning
Through October 31 at No Exit
Theo Ubique presents a 1948 comic drama, set in the 1400s and written in verse, about a depressed soldier who wants to be hanged, and a condemned witch who prefers to live. Christopher Fry's play is a curio, but according to Chicago critics, it's a delightful curio, beautifully performed. With a special Halloween night party/performance at 5 p.m..
Boobs and Goombas
Through October 30 at Gorilla Tango
Sully your childhood with an evening of Nintendo-themed nakedness. In this thinly-veiled excuse to string a bunch of burlesque acts together, the sexually frustrated Mario Bros. start seeing the Peachy side of their various opponents. The Princess may be in another castle, but that koopa's got a fantastic rack.
Through October 31 at Apollo Theater
Supernatural, psychological or just plain strange? This new one-act, which looks like the Orpheus myth filtered through "The Ring," splices video with live actors, telling the story of a woman using a transistor radio to search for her dead husband. Critics say it's a flawed, but atmospheric production, anchored by Victoria Gilbert's compelling lead performance.
The Rip Nelson Halloween Spooktacular
Through November 6 at Mary's Attic
Halloween is the campiest holiday of them all. Hell in a Handbag is the campiest Chicago theatre company of them all. See a connection? The Handbag's October show, which channels the absurdity of 70s variety TV, is about a has-been comedian aiming to revive his career with a spooky holiday special. Wooga wooga.
Through October 17 at the Greenhouse Theater Center
From Greek myths to urban legends, this show will explore every messed-up thing that captured the human imagination without ever walking the earth. Teatro Luna, an all-Latina group that specializes in wickedly funny, soulful writer/performer shows should present a fast-paced and engaging night: something supernatural, without all the Halloween cliches.
Vampire Squids From Hell!
Sunday, October 24 at Gorilla Tango Theatre, 7:30 p.m.; $10
Local multimedia artist Brandon Kosters pulls together excerpts from vintage horror films and military propaganda for this one-man musical performance. Warning: It's going to get intense.
Sunday, October 31 at Gorilla Tango Theatre, 7:30 p.m.; $12
Jeremiah Howe produces this show about the nightmares we don't see -- things that happen in our everyday life that remind us that the worst possible thing could happen at any moment. You will never look at the news in the same way again.
After Dusk But Before Daylight: A Parody of a Very Famous Vampire Series
October 2-November 13 at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre; 10 p.m. Saturdays; $18
The Twilight series has blown up the media and created an international phenomenon for teens, tweens, and adult women lusting after hot young vampires. The Metropolis cast will improv their way through all topics of interest including vampires, werewolves, and brooding young people. Audience members will even have the opportunity to make suggestions and watch their ideas come to life before their very eyes. No show will be the same, so the fun never ends. This show contains adult content and language and is not recommended for children or young teens.
Musical of the Living Dead
October 7-31 at The Charnel House; 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday (and Sunday, October 31); $20-$35
This original musical parody of classic zombie films and musical theater features a splatter zone--the first few rows of the theater, set aside for enthusiastic patrons eager to be up close and in on the gory action.
Through October 31 at City Lit
Why not explore your existential terror instead? Try the scary tale of a man on trial for reasons that are never explained to him. Nobody in Chicago theater can pull a mindf*ck quite like neo-Futurist founder Greg Allen, and his take on the Kafka classic should be both harrowing and pretty damn funny.
October 8-November 20 at Oracle Theatre; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays
Federico Garcia Lorca's play is not recommended for brides-to-be.
Madam Barker's Halloween Variety Show
October 13-November 3 at Storefront Theatre; 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays; $20, $15 for students
Molly Brennan returns as Madame Barker in this celebration of life and death (she presides over her own funeral). Guests include chef Rick Bayless and Peter Sagal of "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me."
Looking for more ways to celebrate the season? We've got you covered with scarily accurate info on:
House Party Essentials
Creepy Chicago Tours