ChiIL Live Shows on our radar
By Millie Rose
Directed by Molly H. Donahue
An immersive and interactive thriller putting you on the jury judging history's famous female vampire
All Production Photos by Les Rorick
by bonnie kenaz-mara
* I'm keeping this review as spoiler free as possible, because Bloody Bathory is best experienced with few preconceived notions.
Barrens Theatre Company's Bloody Bathory is a preternatural romp through a crumbling, castle-like setting, where guests have the option to follow any or many of 17 characters. My 16 year old daughter and I chose to split up, so we'd see different story lines, and we both had a blast. We also had quite different experiences and were privy to unique secrets and storylines, even to the point of voting opposite each other as jury members. It was fun to compare notes after the show.
My daughter, Sage, tailed one of the women in white with black corsets, who have the most energetic track with lots of running, pranking and haunting. Are they demonic fairy folk, ghosts of slaughtered teen girls who have gone missing in the castle, or something else entirely? Some characters can see them, they can certainly be heard and felt in the physical world, and their storyline travels forward and backwards in time. Are these recollections real or faulty fictions?
Sage got to do a lot of hands on participation and mess with other characters and audience alike, while running from room to room, and even outdoors. She initially wasn't sure if she wanted to catch the show with me, but was a total convert after, raving about how much fun it was and taking a handful of flyers for her theatre teachers and friends.
I started out following a poor, young girl, sent to the castle as a servant and never seen again. As paths crossed, I switched to following numerous different characters including Countess Bathory herself, the Cardinal, and others. Mine was a less physical track, sans running, but full of mental gymnastics. In the process I heard about love triangles, sadistic discipline, midwifery and healing practices, gender based power struggles, superstition and rumor, religious and royal power grabs, romantic tiffs, hexes, herbs, and hauntings. Between the proliferation of Dracula tales and this new-to-me story of Countess Bathory, I was left wondering WTF is wrong with the literally bloodthirsty, Transylvanian gentry of old?! Bloody Bathory is an amazing night of clever clue hunting and fabulously fun theatre, full of passionate characters, plot twists galore, intriguing locals, and sketchy shenanigans.
I'm sure the experience is different every night, and for each participant, even on the same evening. That said, here's a few helpful tips.
Know Before You Go:
1. Wear comfortable shoes and something warm. There's a wide range of options for audience participation from sedentary to downright athletic, but there are stairs to interesting locals and short exterior scenes available to explore. There are umbrellas and blankets if you're in need, but DIY is a good bet.
2. Enter through the front doors to the sanctuary. We easily found free street parking and located Epworth United Methodist Church, but wandered around with a group of equally lost souls, trying locked door after door. There wasn't signage or anything about where to enter in the advance materials. Turned out we were just a bit early!
3. Talk less, learn more. This is a show best enjoyed in silence. There's an eery soundtrack, a zillion clues, and characters who contradict others. No-one will jump out and scare you, touch you, or make you do anything against your will. Characters may enlist your help to do small tasks, if you're down for it. I mostly lurked and listened, fly on wall style, while my daughter ended up assisting her character with lots of pranking.
4. Make a point to get to the cellar and through the hanging sheets at least once. There are fascinating environs all over, so explore the hidden nooks, in addition to the larger rooms where most of the action occurs.
I've seen plenty of interactive theatre over the years and this is one of my favorites. BLOODY BATHORY is a show you could return to multiple times and catch new storylines with each visit. There was plenty of action, history, and mystery, and yet we were left wanting more. BLOODY BATHORY is a thoroughly enjoyable evening of macabre mayhem and magic, and a fall must see. Highly recommended.
Bonnie Kenaz-Mara is a Chicago based writer-theater critic-photographer-videographer-actress-artist-general creatrix and Mama to two terrific teens. She owns two websites where she has published frequently since 2008: ChiILLiveShows.com (adult) & ChiILMama.com (family friendly).
Rose’s script, which has been in development the past four years through workshops and readings, will be realized in an immersive staging by director Molly H. Donahue, who has worked with (re)discover theatre as the director of 50 SHADES OF SHAKESPEARE, as a creator and director of “The Guest” in FOR ONE, and as the dramaturg and developer on THE INNOCENTS.
Playwright Millie Rose herself will take the role of Elizabeth Bathory. The cast will also include Amy Carpenter (Zsofia, U/S Zita), August Stamper (Hanna), Cory David Williamson, (Janos Ficzko), Danny Turek (Cardinal Melchior Klesl, U/S Matthias), David Quiñones (Count George Thurzko), Ebony Chuukwu (Zita, U/S Bathory), Erich Peltz (Deseo the Castellan), Kayla Cole (Mira, U/S Katalin), Kelly Schmidt (Anna Darvolya), Kristen Alesia (Hedi, U/S Anna), Levi Schrader (Reverend Ponikenusz), Lo Miles (Katalin Beneczky), Maggie Miller (Kovac/Judge), Stephanie Mattos (Archduke Matthias), Tague Zachary (Benedek Toth), William Delforge (Ferenc Kalmar). Additional understudies will include Hannah Ewing (U/S Mira, U/S Zsofia), Lauren Walters (U/S Hanna, Hedi), Michel Bigelow (U/S Thurzo), and Richard Eisloeffel (U/S Toth/Kalmar/Ficzko).
L-R: Kristen Alesia, Amy Carpenter, Kayla Cole, Wiliiam Delforge, Stephanie Mattos.
Middle Row L-R: Lo Miles, Maggie Miller, Erich Peltz, Millie Rose, August Stamper.
Third Row: L-R: Kelly Schmidt, Levi Schrader, Danny Turek, Cory David Williamson, Tague Zachary. Bottom row: Ebony Chuukwu, David Quinones.
The BLOODY BATHORY design and production team includes Amanda Vander Byl (Costume Designer), Owen Nichols (Lighting Designer), Matt Reich (Sound Designer), Nina D’Angier (Production Designer), Fight Choreographer (Molly H. Donahue), Kate Lass (Intimacy Designer), Brent Ervin-Eickhoff (Script Captain), Emilie Modaff (Music Director), Kristina McCloskey (Associate Director), Hannah Beehler (Production Stage Manager), Jamie Lyn Woods, Christian Tabotabo (Assistant Stage Managers), Emily "Red" Melgard (Crew Swing), and Les Rorick, Cory David Williamson and Millie Rose (Producers).
BLOODY BATHORY will be both immersive and interactive. The audience will have direct experience with the story and its characters, giving them the power to decide Bathory’s fate. Rose says, “Immersive theatre gives the audience purpose and investment in the story in a way that regular seated theatre cannot. There is an exclusivity about it, a gathering, a camaraderie created. The audience is not just watching the story but now they are a part of it. I believe we attend the theatre because we want to experience something outside of ourselves and our own lives.”
ABOUT THE BARRENS THEATRE
Inspired by Stephen King's epic novel, IT, the barrens were a place where nightmares truly existed. Nightmares reveal the existence of our deepest fears as well as our greatest desires.
We, at The Barrens Theatre, want to examine the intricacies of human behavior, how we cope with fear and hope and desire in scary places.
Millie Rose (Playwright) is an actor and playwright. She also creates her own murder mystery parties. Millie has worked in Chicago over the past four years with a number of different theatre companies including Filament Theatre, Arc Theatre, New Colony, Bluebird Arts, Pride Films & Plays and About Face Theatre. She participated in the New Colony's Writer's Room 2.0. She is a neighbor with The Neighborhood Theatre. She received her BFA in Theatre Performance from the University of Idaho.
Molly H. Donahue (Director) is a Chicago based director and new works developer. She has worked with (re)discover theatre as the director of 50 SHADES OF SHAKESPEARE, a creator and director of “The Guest” in FOR ONE, and as the dramaturg and developer on THE INNOCENTS. She is proud to be a founding member of The Barrens Theatre Co. Recently she has directed the Out of Time 24 Hour Play festival as we well as The Bloody Bathory Project in 2018. She is passionate about immersive artforms and challenging artists and audiences alike to see each other in a new light. She is so excited to be directing Bloody Bathory 2019!
Kristina McCloskey (Associate Director) is a freelance director and producer from Virginia, based in Chicago. Recent directing credits include THE LITTLE FOXES at Citadel Theater, EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN with Dandelion Theatre, and an immersive staged reading of RICHARD III with Midsommer Flight/Unbound Theatre Co. She was Executive Producer of BLOODY BATHORY with Barrens in 2017. Kristina is also an Associate Artist with Dandelion Theatre Company and has had the good fortune to work with 16th Street Theatre, Midsommer Flight, Tarleton/Dawn Productions, and Griffin Theatre. Kristina is passionate about development opportunities for artists in Chicago, including devising and developing new work as well as adapting classic texts. She is equally obsessed with homesteading and every dog she meets (especially corgis). kristinamccloskey.com
Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 pm (Tuesday, October 1 at 8 pm)
Epworth United Methodist Church, 5253 N. Kenmore Ave., Chicago
Tickets: Previews $17, Regular performances $27. Tickets on sale now. Click HERE. Additional show information at www.thebarrenstheatreco.com