In October, multiple Atlanta playhouses more closely resemble haunted houses, bent on making their audiences scream with fright — or possibly laughter.
With days growing shorter and Halloween drawing near, some theaters embrace the chance to get spooky. Makeup artists mix stage blood by the bucket, while small venues use their close quarters to build suspense or unnerve the spectators within arm’s length. Classic ghost story traditions go hand in skeletal hand with cutting-edge technical effects.
The following theaters’ approach to Halloween plays can range from slowly building dread to gross-out comedy — sometimes within the same show.
‘The Sleepy Hollow Experience’
Specializing in inventive open-air shows, Serenbe Playhouse evokes the classic chills of Washington Irving’s ghost story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” for the fifth year in a row. Chris Mayers reprises the role of schoolteacher Ichabod Crane, who scoffs at the town’s legends of a headless horseman.
Adapted by Brian Clowdus and Rachel Teagle, “The Sleepy Hollow Experience” offers an immersive production that makes the most of the Serenbe community’s rustic backdrop. Early productions took place in actual stables, but now the “traveling performance” (which offers seating only on request) sprawls across the Horseman’s Meadow.
In 2014, American Theatre magazine singled it out as one of “Five Spook-tacular Halloween Shows” across the country. The company compares the show’s content to a PG-rated movie, and this year offers family-friendly daytime productions at 2 p.m. Sundays, preceded by pumpkin patch visits and other kid-oriented activities.
While Serenbe Playhouse is about 40 miles south of Atlanta, the show’s haunting final images have power that’s worth the drive.
Through Nov. 5. $25-$40. The Horseman’s Meadow, Serenbe Playhouse, 9110 Selborne Lane, Palmetto. 770-463-1110, serenbeplayhouse.com.
‘Evil Dead: The Musical’
In the 1980s, cult movies like “Evil Dead 2” mixed splattering gore effects and slapstick comedy, inspiring the portmanteau “splatstick.” “Evil Dead: The Musical” takes the original premise — college kids accidentally release demons in a cabin in the woods — and adds songs with titles like “Ode to an Accidental Stabbing.”
For its second year, Marietta’s Out of Box Theatre stages “Evil Dead: The Musical,” starring Jack Allison as the hapless hero Ash (played with cheesy gusto by Bruce Campbell in the original films).
“Is it scary? Nah. But you will scream with laughter from start to finish,” says Out of Box artistic director Carolyn Choe. “And you will get bloody in the front row Splatter Zone.” Audiences may want to dress down accordingly.
Through Nov. 4. $35-$45. Out of Box Theatre, 585 Cobb Parkway S., Suite C-1, Marietta. 678-653-4605, outofboxtheatre.com.
‘The Ghastly Dreadfuls’
A band of groovy ghouls rise from their graves to share unearthly tales and rocking tunes at “The Ghastly Dreadfuls,” the Center for Puppetry Arts’ recurring Halloween show.
Created by Jon Ludwig and Jason Hines in 2006, the show offers a mix of original stories and ones previously seen. Resurrected this year will be “The 11:59,” a moody piece about an unearthly “death train”; the musical number “Grim Grinning Ghosts,” based on the theme song from Disney’s Haunted Mansion attraction; and “The Girl in the New Dress,” a kitschy, morbidly comedic tale from the point of view of a young shopper.
The show’s latest addition is “The Horrific Experiment: A Grand Guignol,” in which a doctor and his assistant go to extremes to bring his daughter back to life. It’s one of two original shows this season (see below) that evoke the Grand Guignol, a Parisian playhouse whose name became synonymous with graphic, provocative stage violence. The company recommends “The Ghastly Dreadfuls” for ages 18 and up.
Oct. 11-28. $24.50 ($18.25 for members). Center for Puppetry Arts, Downstairs Theater, 1404 Spring St. NW, Atlanta. 404-873-3391, www.puppet.org.
‘Vivian: A Musical Ghost Story’
A doctor (Travis Smith) moves with his two daughters to a remote house in California only to encounter eerie mysteries in “Vivian: A Musical Ghost Story.” Written by Chase Peacock and Jessica De Maria and presented in partnership with the Atlanta Lyric Theatre, the show combines musical numbers with spine-tingling staging.
“It’s actually pretty frightening with an immersive environment, jump scares, a chilling storyline and a little girl possessed that will keep you up at night,” De Maria says. “We’ve been saying (it’s) PG-13 because of some language.”
Taking place in Marietta’s intimate, 77-seat Lyric Studio Theatre in the Square, “Vivian” is directed by Julie Skrzypek and features Mabel Tyler, Brittany Ellis and Austin Taylor.
Oct. 11-14. $25. Lyric Studio Theatre in the Square, 12 Powder Springs St., Marietta. 404-377-9948, Atlantalyric.com.
‘The Anointing of Dracula: A Grand Guignol’
Halloween would feel incomplete without an appearance from Dracula, the culture’s most famous vampire. Brent Glenn, Theater Emory’s newly named artistic director, has written and directed a new stab at the blood-drinker’s mythos, “The Anointing of Dracula: A Grand Guignol.”
“The many brides of Dracula gather together each Halloween to present a brief retelling of Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ for the pleasure of the actual Dracula, who is in attendance,” Glenn says. “The vampires take on roles from the novel and tell the story, which emphasizes the violent aspects.”
Featuring songs from a live band, “The Anointing of Dracula” includes a content warning for “extreme bloody carnage and overt sensuality.” “The whole show is 90 minutes long and feels like a ritualized Hammer horror film from the ’70s,” Glenn says.
Oct. 26-Nov. 5. $22 ($6 Emory students). Theater Emory, Mary Gray Munroe Theater, Alumni Memorial University Center, 630 Means Drive, Atlanta. 404-727-5050, theater.emory.edu.