HORROR ACADEMY The three short plays and five monologues comprising
Darren Callahan's anthology of creepy tales hark back to the golden
age of horror fiction, nowadays associated with gory spectacle. But
at one time this literary genre was the favored forum for discussion
of the conflicts between science and superstition--or, if you prefer,
dispassionate technology and natural law. Director Jeremy Wechsler and
the stage combat-oriented Babes With Blades take full advantage of their
quarters in a circa 1910 mansion, now the North Lakeside Cultural Center,
to lead audiences on a 90-minute tour through speculations on the fate
of civilization as we know it. Amid the glut of Halloween theatrical
screamfests, Horror Academy provides not only the requisite chills and
thrills but food for thought.
This theatrical revue mixes spooky short monologues with three "Twilight
Zone"-flavored one-acts, all penned by local playwright Darren
Callahan. The evening showcases the skills of the all-female Babes With
Blades company; this "Academy" also takes particular advantage
of its venue by constantly moving the audience around an old mini-mansion,
staging scenes in the creepy basement, on staircases or even in narrow
corridors. Watch your back!
WHO IT'S FOR: Anyone who loves old-school horror.
FOG & BLOOD QUOTIENT: High. Fog pumps while you're at the ticket
counter. Blood splatters past the front row.
Time Out Magazine
Horror Academy starts with a smashing idea: Take over a turn-of-the-century
three-story house; stage spooky monologues and vignettes throughout
said house; inject fake fog when needed. The formula's not foolproof,
however. Once within the haunted-house setting, we want the bejesus
scared out of us, or at a bare minimum, we want stories that live up
to the framing device.
And that's where the Babes falter, initially anyway. The stories they
offer are a mixed bag, ranging from "too creaky even for The Twilight
Zone" to pretty darn creepy. Callahan does his best work with the
interstitial monologues; perhaps it's the compressed format, but with
the monologues, he's able to gesture provocatively at the hidden horrors
of mundane issues, such as aging, motherhood and the dating scene, without
overplaying his hand. The vignettes are much dicier, progressing from
the disappointing opener, a clunky, obvious tale of vampirism ("Why
is all this blood missing from the blood bank?!?"), to the much
more effective and unsettling zombie story that ends the evening.
With Horror Academy, the Babes take another step forward in integrating
their signature stage combat with drama, a project they started with
last year's Affair of Honor. They're still figuring out the best way
to build a drama about violence, and sometimes, the seams are all too
apparent. But at the better moments-say, whenever the talented Amy Harmon
takes to the stage-we see where they're heading, and it's worth fostering.
If the product isn't yet perfectly polished theater, it's at the very
least a ripping good time.
"Horror Academy" doesn't seem like a typical Babes With Blades
production. The company specializes in plays that celebrate the warrior
woman archetype while offering plenty of chances for the actresses to
show off their prowess in stage combat. In this anthology of horror
stories, most of the struggles are verbal or hand-to-hand. However,
its themes remain steeped in female camaraderie, and what the play lacks
in swordplay it makes up in tension.
As written by Darren Callahan of Chicago Dramatists, "Academy"
is performed in the North Lakeside Cultural Center, a turn-of-the-century
mansion located near Loyola University. The play's individual segments,
three one-acts broken up by monologues, each take place in a different
part of the mansion, and the audience follows a black-robed guide to
each. Both the intimate performances and the old building itself contribute
to its seasonal thrills, as one feels like they're traversing the stairs
of a haunted house as much as watching a play.
Callahan's main stories are neatly-contained portraits of mayhem. In
the first, "Three Lines," we meet three sisters employed at
a blood bank that is experiencing strange thefts from its stock. Next,
health-care workers in the remote South contend with surly, drum-beating
locals who hunger for human flesh in "Everything's Different Here."
Finally, "Where Is the Breakdown?" presents a young woman
with a violent history who wakes up after a deadly accident, at a time
when a mysterious malady has killed off all the planet's men.
Although they're not extremely gory (there is some blood but nothing
too gruesome), these tales are best suited to adults. From the individual
vignettes to the "Red Message" monologues, "Horror Academy"
glimpses hurt, haunted women thrust into situations that evoke real-life
horror despite the stories' fantastic elements. Babes With Blades capably
convey the crucial message of modern horror fiction: Humans are their
own worst enemies. After all, vampires, cannibals and zombies don't
pose as much a threat as when these women turn on each other.
"Horror Academy," three stars, through Nov. 4 at the North
Lakeside Cultural Center, 6219 N. Sheridan Road, Chicago.$18, $15. (773)
880-0016 or www.babeswithblades.org.
Babes With Blood Splatter
It's October, and in the United States (and to a smaller extent Canada)
it's undeniably Haunted House season! Thousands of haunted environments
spring up for the month leading to Halloween. From the 5 dollar amateur
backyard variety to the big professional 45 dollar VIP gig, they all
largely consist of thrusting yourself in a long, loud line-up of the
under 25yr old crowd to spend 20 minutes fumbling around black hallways
into small rooms of jump-at-you scares and chainsaw wielding demonic
clowns. And while I'm all for the traditional house scares (Haunted
House article coming soon!), I'm pleased to have just discovered a new
twist on the Haunted Horror.
The infamous, Chicago, all-female ensemble Babes With Blades have launched
a mini, Hitchcock-ian stage play experience; "Horror Academy".
This series of three independent "acts" interspersed with
smaller vignettes, written by Darren Callahan and directed by Jeremy
Wechsler, are aptly set in the turn of the century Gunder Mansion. For
90 minutes you're escorted through dark, foggy corridors and creepy
stairwells into disturbing tales of theatrical horror with a range of
settings from Victorian blood banks to the Louisiana Bayou.
Babes with Blades are well known for exploring theatrical violence and
their lovely trend continues with Horror Academy. Starting with the
blades, nurses get slashed and slurped in "Three Lines"; humanitarian
volunteers slowly move from needle stabbings to guns and worse in "Everything's
Different Here"; and in "Where is the Breakdown?" car
crash victims polish things off with a good knife brawling finish! Throughout
it all you are a front row voyeur to skilled women battling amongst
themselves and the supernatural (vamps, zombies, cannibals, oh my!)
all the while surrounded by great sound, eerie sets, and blood splattering
Much like the Haunted Houses scares are seasonal, Horror Academy "classes"
are only in session from October 13th to November 4th. That just gives
you 3 short weeks to see the Babes in live horror action before they
move on to other ventures and venues.
So if you're looking for a thought provoking alternative to the simple
boo-gotcha maniac howling down a black light hallway to get your Halloween
kicks then get thee to Horror Academy where their motto is, "You
Haven't Got a Hope in Hell."
Chicago Sun Times
When faced with zombies, cannibals and vampires, you really need a
sword handy. So fall in behind the Babes With Blades -- yep, an all-female
troupe of fencing actors -- for their seasonal production, Horror Academy,
continuing through Nov. 4 at North Lakeside Cultural Center, 6219 N.
Sheridan. Tickets, $10-18, Call (773) 880-0016 or visit www.babeswithblades.com.