As fall darkens, theaters respond with mystery, fear

By Josette Keelor

As the month of October plunges deeper into the darkness of autumn nights and Halloween prepares to get its spook on, stories of murder, revenge and fear-inducing uncertainty hover in the shadows at three valley playhouses.

With stories ranging in theme from mystery to comedy, each dark tale promises hair-raising moments that will haunt theatergoers in Winchester, Edinburg and New Market long after the curtain falls.

Marking its three-year anniversary this month with the annual Halloween-inspired show, The Schultz Theatre in New Market has already dug its teeth into the musical thriller “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” which continues through Nov. 2.

In the chilling, suspenseful, heart-pounding story of murderous barber-ism and culinary crime, composer Stephen Sondheim and writer Hugh Wheeler show how an unjustly exiled barber, Sweeney Todd, returning to 19th century London, takes revenge on the judge who framed him, raped his wife and claimed his daughter. The barber’s killer instinct soon expands to include his customers and wrangles in his downstairs neighbor, Mrs. Lovett, who discovers a new ingredient to use in the meat pies she sells at her shop.

Elaborate set design has been one of the show’s biggest challenges, said Director Jake DuVall-Early.

“It’s definitely the biggest set that’s been at the Schultz,” he said. The design centers on a barber’s chair, where Todd cuts a little more off the top than his customers expect.

Duvall-Early said the barber’s chair is set high above the stage and rigged to dump bodies down a shoot hidden below the set.

The show also uses more principal characters than the small volunteer theater is used to.

Tyler Cramer and Gina Currence star as Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett. Abigail Reedy plays Joanna, Michael Bendit is Anthony, Richard Clem is the judge, Michael Gwin is Seagle, Lori Staley is the beggar, Jesse Lewis is Tobias and the director himself is Terelli.

With nine principals and seven ensemble members, DuVall-Early said he took on a lot in his second directorial experience at the Schultz — the first was “Death of a Salesman” in May 2012 — but so far the show has done well in its first of three weekends, which will include a special Halloween night showing with a contest for best costume.

Performances at 9357 N. Congress St., New Market, will be at 7 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Oct. 31, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, through Nov. 2. Tickets for adults are $10 in advance and $12 at the door, and for students and seniors are $8 at the door and $10 in advance. For more information, call 540-740-9119 or www.schultztheatre.com.

Also this weekend, Theatre Shenandoah in Edinburg will present the comedic mystery “Hello… Is There Any Body There?” with performances at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday. In a blend of Agatha Christie creepiness and Monty Python antics, the play billed as appropriate for the whole family will leave audiences wondering who could be behind a string of seemingly random murders. The theater is at 107 Center St., Edinburg. Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for youth and seniors. For more information, call 540-984-3972 or visit www.theatreshenandoah.org.

In November, darkness will deepen with Winchester Little Theatre’s “Incorruptible: A Dark Comedy About the Dark Ages,” about 13th century French monastery monks whose already shaky livelihood is more deeply threatened when the skeleton of their patron saint, Saint Foy, disappears from her resting place shortly before the pope announces his visit.

For a poverty-stricken monastery, having a saint’s remains on site can be its only source of income, and in a scurry to find another way of bringing in funds, the monks begin selling off the remains of a murdered Jewish money changer and enlist the help of a wandering, one-eyed minstrel.

Director Sara Gomez said she chose the play because of her affinity for playwright Michael Hollinger, whose drama, “Opus,” the theater performed last year.

“I love the fact that he writes about extremely different topics,” Gomez said. Hollinger’s experience as a musician came in handy for “Opus,” about a string quartet’s search for a new member. For “Incorruptible” he researched the real life practice of Christians traveling to the sites of incorruptible relics — portions of dead saints that don’t decompose — in the hope of witnessing a miracle.

Sadly for the monks, “Their saint hasn’t been performing in awhile,” Gomez said. Then they realize their saint is missing, and they have to find out where she is.

“It’s kind of confusing,” said Gomez, “but then that’s kind of the nature of the comedy. … It’s a well-written comedy.”

Tickets range in price from $14.50 to $18.75, and performances will be at 8 p.m. Thursday to Saturday and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 8 to 23. For more information, call 662-3331 or visit www.wltonline.org.

Also in November, The Youth Theatre at Theatre Shenandoah in Edinburg will present “Lockdown,” by Douglas Craven, a one-act play about high school students left alone at school and uncertain if the lockdown is just a drill or a real emergency. Performances will be at 7 p.m. Nov. 8 and 9 and 2:30 p.m. Nov. 10. Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for kids and seniors. Call 540-984-3972 or visit www.theatreshenandoah.org.

Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com