Theater doesn’t tend to observe the holidays. One exception is Christmas, when New Yorkers can see six or seven versions of A Christmas Carol. The other is Halloween, which makes sense; actors love playing dress-up, horror provides opportunity aplenty for drama, and intimate Off-Off Broadway houses lend themselves well to haunting. (It’s hard to get the heebie-jeebies in a 1,500-seat Broadway jewel box.) This season, there are at least 10 promising shows to choose from.
If you're looking for quality, three of the ten are known quantities. The Pumpkin Pie Show: Seasick is an installment of Clay McLeod Chapman’s delightful storytelling series, featuring a stellar cast of downtown performers; this edition is set aboard a doomed cruise ship. (Our own Helen Shaw calls it “thoroughly marvelous and gross and peculiar, not to mention a cause for huge, unbecoming snorts of laughter.”) Ghost Quartet is the latest experimental music-theater work by Dave Malloy, the compositional genius behind Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812; less scary than eerie, it mixes Edgar Allan Poe, Arabian Nights, subway tragedy and free whiskey. (“There’s not a linear story to follow,” notes our David Cote, “but the material coheres on a rich, intuitive level.”) For something batshit crazy, check out the one-night return of John J. Caswell’s God Hates This Show: Shirley Phelps-Roper in Concert, Live from Hell, starring the ferocious Erin Markey as a real-life antigay firebrand spewing vile songs from a fictional fire.
Like Halloween candy, horror shows are often best when bite-size, which is why so many are anthologies. In addition to Chapman's and Malloy’s, there is Bedlam Nightmares: Execution Day, the latest—and allegedly final—episode of the Brick’s bimonthly series The Blood Brothers Present… October in the Chair and Other Fragile Things is a stage adaptation of stories by creepmaster Neil Gaiman (The Sandman), by the new Yale graduates of Old Sound Room.
On the wacky side, way out in Coney Island, there is Dick Zigun’s Dead End Dummy, a vaudeville horror comedy—directed by sideshow expert Trav S.D.—about an insane ventriloquist who sets out to murder Thomas Edison. Or if you don’t want anything scary, but like Halloween for its festivity and masquerade, there is Mickey Bolmer's Back, set at a gay 1989 Halloween party whose guests are dressed as famous Greenwich Villagers from Aaron Burr to Cookie Mueller.
Finally, there are the classics. Up at the Morris-Jumel Mansion in Washington Heights, which supposedly has ghosts of its own, is a site-specific adaptation of The Turn of the Screw, Henry James's 1898 babysitting chiller. And you can take a turn for the verse at not one but two stagings of William Shakespeare’s infamous gorefest, Titus Andronicus, a tale of violent revenge that leaves no body part unhacked. The Frog & Peach Theatre Company’s version is at the Upper West Side’s churchy-spooky West End Theatre; Hamlet Isn’t Dead’s rendition is at the East Village’s WOW Café (with a post-show party on October 31).
See one! Or see them all! This is the one time of year when yelling "boo" in a theater can be a plus.