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HHA 2016: Best Halloween Stage Presentation/Play in Los Angeles

Nominees: Dracula – Blood Before Dawn; Turn of the Screw; Urban Death – Tour of Terror

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Every October, Los Angeles theatres present a variety of plays themed for the Halloween season. The great thing about these offerings is that theatrical events tend to extend their run into November, giving fright-fans something to do after the Halloween haunted houses have closed.

The stands outs in 2016 all sent shivers down our spine, earning recognition in the Halloween Haunt Awards category for Best Stage Presentation or Play (which includes only productions staged in conventional theatres; non-theatrical plays are in a separate category).

Dracula: Blood Before Dawn at the Loft Ensemble (pictured at top). Raymond Donahey’s adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel recast the Count as the next step in human evolution, a Homo Superioris preying on inferior humans. Though the play’s lesbian-feminist element was awkwardly handled, the power of the story – with its mix of blood, immortality, seduction, and conquest – resonated strongly thanks to good performances and agile staging, creating a bloody good horror show under-girded by some intellectual ambition.

Turn of the Screw at Crossley Theatre. Jeffrey Hatcher’s innovative rendering of Henry James’ novel, performed on an empty stage by two actors, proves that less – or, in this case, almost nothing – truly is more. Robertson Dean’s staging fills the empty space with movement, light, and shadows, pricking our imaginations into doing the rest. To borrow a clever turn of phrase, with no scenery to chew, actors Natalie Hope Macmillan and Isaac Wade have only each other; their dramatic interaction reaches a climax that is truly devastating.

Urban Death: Tour of Terror at Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre. As creepy as ever, this Halloween’s installment of the surreal theatrical horror show proved that, even after the novelty of the approach had worn off, Urban Death: Tour of Terror could still fascinate and disturb. The show’s series of black-out vignettes – presented without context or explanation – featured numerous intriguing images, none more so than the strange snake woman who slithered on stage and into our memories, where she will probably remain…forever. (Note: Urban Death was a previous winner in this category, in 2014, but the show has changed so much since then that it qualifies for eligibility.)

The Winner: Turn of the Screw
Isaac Wade and Natalie Hope Macmillan in Turn of the Screw
Isaac Wade and Macmillan in Turn of the Screw

Turn of the Screw is the clear stand-out. In various measure, all of the contenders are clever, imaginative, and well done, but Turn of the Screw has the most palpable impact, which is quite amazing because in some ways the material is restrained and intellectual, avoiding visceral thrills. It’s almost as if the artificiality of the play’s conceit (no sets, only two actors playing all the roles) was a set up for the sucker punch to the solar plexus that arrives so unexpectedly at the end. Stunning work. (Note: the play has one final weekend to go at the Crossley Theatre in Hollywood.

Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.