The Chopin Theater, 100 years old, has a haunted aura—old stained glass and a claustrophobic lobby with parlors to each side. We are asked to go downstairs, to the basement. The stairwell is rough coated with old gold paint over dark red. It’s dim, and no brighter lights summon us onward. We pass through a small entry room, then into the large reception area, with comfortable parlor furniture clustered into conversation areas. The floor is littered with tatty oriental rugs. We purchase a drink and sit in anticipation. Then we are invited deeper into the basement, into Harrow House.
Rough House Theater Frees the Audience to Wander through Harrow House
The program notes say this is the secluded home and studio of Milton Harrow, the world’s most influential and reclusive architect. With no guide but our instincts, we are set loose in the infamous home to discover its secrets, free to pull on whatever threads we encounter and become entangled in the terrifying tale that unspools around them.
Within Harrow House’s moldering walls, we meet its monstrous inhabitants – the architect’s family, assistants and his most fervent followers. Each has made an unthinkable sacrifice to the mad architect’s insatiable hunger for a world that conforms only to his design.
Puppets and Puppeteers Create a Harrow House of Horror
Through puppetry, environmental and sonic design, THE SILENCE IN HARROW HOUSE brings us face to face with cosmic horrors, nightmarish to behold. The lead puppet designer, Grace Needlman, uses mostly body puppets, with the half body of the puppet arising from the waist of the puppeteer, who usually manipulates the head and one arm. This gives us the impression of full-sizes characters who sometimes speak words, but mostly jibberish. If one puppet pulls off the face of another, revealed is not a skull, but a squirming mess. Fascinating are the hand puppets—not worn on the hand but formed from the hand with fingers for locomotion attached to macabre little torsos. These skitter around in the dark, carrying their own illumination, picking at us and each other. Ms. Needlman knows how to create horror, in this writer’s opinion, and the puppeteers know how to execute horror through their intricate manipulations.
Beware of the Darkness
Sound designer Corey Smith and sound engineer Zach Moore audibly took us to another world. The audio stations that played first-person recordings by lost denizens of Harrow’s madness were captivating. The sound through the headphones and ear-trumpets could be louder, at least for this writer’s ears. The best parts are when the lights intermittently go out. Aghhhhhh, it is so dark. Lighting designer David Goodman-Edberg gives us just enough light to move around, but perhaps not quite enough light to read some of the letters and news stories about Harrow.
This is especially a good pick for those 14 and over who enjoy puppetry and a fun seasonal scare.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Conceived and Directed by Mike Oleon
Written by Mark Maxwell and Claire Saxe
Brittany Anderson, Noah Appelbaum, Mark Blashford, Alexander Ferguson, David Gordezky, Lauren Kincaid, Maddy Low,Mark Maxwell, Felix Mayes, Sharaina Turnage, Shannon Weber and Kevin Wesson.
Mike Oleon, director, scenic/puppet designer; Grace Needlman, lead puppet designer; Claire Saxe, playwright; Mark Maxwell, playwright; Hannah Cremin, stage manager; Lenny Fritsch, assistant stage manager; David Goodman-Edberg, lighting designer; Corey Smith, sound design; Caitlin McLeod, costume designer; Anna Wooden, assistant costume designer; Jeff Katz, assistant artifact designer; Warren Wernick, technical director; Zach Moore, sound engineer; Anna Jones, production manager and original scenic design by Lauren Nigri.
October 3 through November 10, 2019
Thursdays and Fridays at 7 and 8:45 p.m.
Saturdays at 6, 7:45 and 9:30 p.m.
Sundays at 6 and 7:45 p.m.
1543 W Division Street
Reviewer Ann Boland is committed to Chicago theater. Involved in the audience since the early 80’s, she’s witnessed firsthand the rise of our theater scene, our exceptional local talent, and the vigor of each new generation. Ann handles public relations for authors and works on programs to help seniors with neurological movement disorders. Please visit her website for more information.
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