Most horror stories dangle gruesome ways of shuffling off this mortal coil. In "Kill Me," the aptly named new show from the WildClaw Theatre, playwright Scott T. Barsotti takes the opposite tack: His central character's biggest nightmare is that she will be unable to die.
In this hellish dream, she goes through the motions of expiration — a wound here, a strangulation there — but none of them will stick, leaving Cam (Sasha Gioppo) open to the nightmare of dying over and over again, which is to say that she does not really die at all.
Barsotti is not the first writer to ponder the interesting notion of whether eternal life (on this earth, at least), would be, well, a fate worse than death, but he's on to something here. Imagine, everyone around you kicks it, and you just hang on and on and on, dying over and over again.
"Kill Me" is a genuinely creepy 70-minute show from the only Chicago theater company to specialize in this particular genre. WildClaw, which performs in the light-tight, black-box venue on the ground floor of the Athenaeum Theatre, is also the only Chicago theater to offer a design credit specifically for "wound effects" (Crystal Portillo, who has a lot to do here).
As Cam dies and dies again, various Halloween-like characters (remnants, it seems, of her trip, or trips, to hell and back) occupy the shadows of the theater, which the superb sound designers Scott Tallarida and Mikhail Fiksel have filled with enough amplified bumps, whines and screeches to keep you on your toes. At Sunday's packed matinee, appreciative theatergoers murmured with approval at regular intervals, including every time the knife went in.
There are, though, some issues that get in the way of "Kill Me." The main problem is that you never really feel like you know this Cam character, or get a grip on her peculiar reality, and thus you don't really empathize with her predicament. Barsotti sets up his little play as a triangular affair — the other two characters are Cam's sister Wendy (Casey Cunningham) and her lover Grace (Michaela Petro), both of whom try to talk Cam out of this unpleasant little set of beliefs, born, it seems, while Cam was in a coma.
But here's the other problem: Barsotti has written the piece mostly in the past tense, which gives it the kind of remove that doesn't serve this genre well. Horror needs to be in the here and now. Yet at "Kill Me," the necessary tension never really ratchets up, because the events on the stage have a distant wash and a pre-ordained quality. Although the performances are sometimes interesting (Gioppo's, especially), the actors seem to float in their own worlds in director Jeff Christian's production, never centering the work in a particular place or set of ideas and never making us feel like we all share a single tantalizing moment.
It's as if nobody can change anything, which may well be true of life and death but is rarely the best choice in the theater, especially when horror is on your mind.
When: Through March 18
Where: Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave.
Running time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Tickets: $22-$27 at 773-935-6860 or wildclawtheatre.comCopyright © 2015, RedEye