Playwright: adapted by David Storms Denman. At: Clock Productions at National Pastime Theater, 4139 N. Broadway. Phone: 773-327-7077; $15. Runs through: Feb. 26
If every scene change in a single-line plot forces us to re-orient ourselves afterward, how much more recovery is required when we are faced with a whole new dramatic universe following a pause of mere seconds? Clock Productions has learned much from its initial foray into the slippery Anthology-theater genre, Six Scary Tales, and now, with Six More Scary Tales, has tweaked the structure to achieve a more unified tonal flow, while retaining the ingenuous low-budget effects engendering its initial charm.
After a curtain-raiser involving a Superman grown weary of his mission, we encounter the evening's framing device: An incautious young woman comes to stay with her aunt in a remote region of North Dakota and is warned not to enter the attic laboratory where her late uncle conducted biological experiments of dubious purpose (the door bears a large sign reading "Keep Out", in case we forget). Before the inevitable occurs, however, she browses the books in her solitary room. One recounts a fable from the Arabian Nights of a foolish man who defies his destiny in search of wealth beyond utterance, only to lose everything to an ironic fate. Another offers a portrait of three precocious American students on a railway excursion through Romaniahome of the legendary Draculawhose xenophobic perceptions lead to dire consequences. And a third presents us with a romantic tale of a doctor's attempt to bargain with his godparent, Death.
Conspicuously absent from this roster is the middle-school mentality that rendered the the target audience for the first Scary Tales so ambiguous. To be sure, More Scary Tales serves up patently-fake body parts untimely removed from their owners, but the amputations are mostly relegated to brief sketches, occuring in silhouette, blackout or upstage. Instead, adapter David Denman focuses on extended narratives allowing us to identifyand identify withthe characters therein. Thus, the humor of an Italian Grim Reaper speaking in a Marlon Brando accent quickly gives way to curiosity over this apparition's motives in adopting a mortal son.
Scary tales are always just morality lessons in disguise, but despite the heightened maturity reflected in its selections, this "sequel" from Clock Productions retains its youthful appeal with motifs falling distinctly within PG-13 guidelines. (Multiple-casting, for example, means that even seductive houri remain swathed in leotard and tights.) But at a comfortable 90 minutes, this introduction to horror lit before such fare became synonymous with guts and gross-out is well worth the stroll to National Pastime's storefront in Uptown.