Halloween, All Saints and the Day of the Dead arrive right in the middle of autumn, but they're only three days, so you can't blame them for this year's abundance of plays exploring the supernatural, the mythic and the mystical. Even plays we don't usually associate with freaks and phantoms have their otherworldly elements. (Where would Hamlet be without a ghost to kick off the action?)
"We are surrounded, at all times, by the Unknown and Unknowable," said Robert Kauzlaric, whose adaptation of Wilkie Collins' old-dark-house thriller The Woman in White continues at Lifeline Theatre through Oct. 28 (773-761-4477; www.lifelinetheatre.com ), adding, "We find a primal comfort in the resolution of a well-crafted story, when we can enjoy, if only for a moment, a bit of order and sense in our chaotic lives."
Terry McCabe, director of Frankenstein, adapted by Bo List and opening at City Lit on Oct. 2 (773-293-3682; www.citylit.org ), looked inward for his explanation: "Many of the great horror stories are about the monster inside each of us. They provide us a way to understand ourselves better." Eric Hoff, who directs Red Tape Theatre's production of The Skriker, running through Oct. 20 (773-525-0844; www.redtapetheatre.org ), concurred, speaking of Caryl Churchill's caveat on the old Celtic spirits rising up against modern disbelievers, "Excessive consumerism and corporate greed led this country astray. To restore order, we must confront our own demons, and in doing so, reckon with Mother Nature and her army of creatures."
Mother Nature is at the heart of Edward Albee's Seascape, running at Remy Bumppo until Oct. 14 (773-404-7336; www.remybumppo.org ), with its themes of Darwinian evolution, but company artistic director Nick Sandys rejected esoteric speculations: "Theater nowadays is rediscovering its own imaginative strengths, rather than copying Hollywood. Symbol and metaphor allow multiple perspectives to exist simultaneously, and what better way to engage an audience than to give them a puzzle?"
House Theatre of Chicago's The Iron Stag King (continuing through Oct. 21. 773-769-3832; www.thehousetheatre.com ) also looks backward into the unwritten stories shaping our culture, with authors Nathan Allen and Chris Mathews cobbling together Northern European and Native American lore to forge a high-fantasy epic trilogy likely to spark memories of their three-part Valentine series ten years ago. "Both science-fiction and fantasy comment on the human condition, one from the future, and the other from the past," explained Mathews. "They take us outside of the immediate to explore the possibilities from a wider point of view."
That brings us to memoriesthose everyday out-of-body experiences, invoked by present occurrences recalling past eventsbut first, a look at some other adventures in the realm of the non-corporeal:
For hardcore horror fans, there's WildClaw Theatre scare-master Charley Sherman's adaptation of Clive Barker's creepsterly The Life of Deathfeaturing a London Christmas, a decayed church, a serial killer, a brave young woman and a mysterious benefactorwhich opens at The Storefront on Oct. 4 (312-742-8497; www.wildclawtheatre.com ). Those preferring shivers to shrieks will welcome Sam Shepard's Geography of a Horse-Dreamer at Mary-Arrchie Theater, running through Oct. 28 (773-871-0442; www.maryarrchie.com ); The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe at First Folio's shadowy atmospheric Tudor mansion in Oak Brook that's opening Sept. 29 (630-986-8067; www.firstfolio.org ); and the aforementioned Hamlet at Writers Theatre in Glencoe that continues through Nov. 11 (847-242-6000; www.writerstheatre.org ).
One can also delve theological mysteries with Lookingglass Theatre's revival of the watery Metamorphoses, which opens Sept. 29 (312-337-0665; www.lookingglasstheatre.org ) or American Theater Company's Marian Agnes of God, running in repertory with Doubt and opening Oct.1 (773-409-4152; www.atcweb.org ). New Millennium Theatre presents the goofy Bride-of-Frankenstein-meets-Quentin-Tarantino spectacle Kill Viktor, opening Sept. 28 (773-975-8150; www.newmilleniumtheatre.com ), but if you consider brains to be more than fodder for reanimated corpses, check out the Twilight Zone vibes when a zombie-hunt video game takes on a life of its own in Jennifer Haley's Primus award-winning Requisition of Doom (opening Oct. 7) or the War of the Worlds undertones in Partypool (opening Oct. 14), both at Strawdog Theatre (866-811-4111; www.strawdog.org ).
Sometimes, though, the specter of a remembered favorite is enough to provide respite from our own earthly cares. The next few months will offer such classics as Tennessee Williams' Sweet Bird of Youth at the Goodman, directed by David Cromer and opening Sept. 24 (312-443-3800; www.goodmantheatre.org ); Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night, performed by Eclipse Theatre, opening Nov. 4 (773-935-6875; www.eclipsetheatre.com ); and The Big Knife, Clifford Odets' attack on Hollywood valuesone of the first in a prolific genrerunning at Raven Theatre to Nov. 11 (773-338-2177; www.raventheatre.com ). For South Side playgoers, August Wilson's Jitney continues at Court Theatre to Oct. 14 (773-753-4472; www.courttheatre.org ) and James Baldwin's The Amen Corner, directed by Runako Jahi, at ETA to Oct. 21 (773-752-3955; www.etacreativearts.org ). We get a few laughs, tooNorthlight opens Neil Simon's The Odd Couple on Nov. 9 (847-673-6300; www.northlight.org ).
More recent remounts include the revival of Rivendell Theatre Ensemble's award-winning Wrens, playing through Oct. 13 (773-334-7728; www.rivendelltheatre.org ); the return of the National Theater of Scotland's Black Watch, opening for a short run on Oct. 10 (312-595-5600; www.chicagoshakes.com ); and the transfer-extension of Steep Theater's sold-out family drama Moment at Theater Wit starting Sept. 21 (866-811-4111; www.theaterwit.org ).
The most eagerly anticipated Ghost of Theatergoing Past, however, is the resurrection of Will Kern's Hellcab, the sleeper hit that drew audiences to the late Famous Door Theatre throughout most of the 1990s, opening at Profiles Theatre Nov. 15 (773-549-1815; www.profilestheatre.org ), just in time to usher in the holidays.