‘Deathscribe: Miami’ spooks audiences with audio-based twist

Madelyn Paquette // Contributing Photographer
Madelyn Paquette // Contributing Photographer
Madelyn Paquette // Contributing Photographer

When most people think of horror, their minds jump to slasher films, bone-chilling novels or even haunted houses. But what about plays? There are frightfully few truly scary on-stage performances. WildClaw Theatre is out to change that with “Deathscribe: Miami,” a theatrical experience showcasing the eerie, bone-chilling and downright creepy, just in time for Halloween.

WildClaw Theatre, the Chicago-based company behind “Deathscribe,” has run an annual competition for the past eight years to select the best short horror radio plays. Each year, after receiving scripts from all around the world, WildClaw selects five to perform for a live audience and compete for the Bloody Axe Award. The show, at the Adrienne Arsht Center, consists of five of the best of these finalists, as well as a few spooky musical numbers.

Because the scripts are written for the radio, the ensemble of performers have to do the bulk of their acting through their voices alone. This format only intensified the hair-raising atmosphere, as it encouraged the listener’s imagination to run wild in these scary stories. Many of the plays would be difficult to fully realize in a staged production because of the outlandish special effects that would be required. Relying purely on the words of the cast to paint a frightening picture was more powerful because of its simplicity.

The six actors showed remarkable range in their varied roles. Mallory Nees, in particular, transformed from a spoiled school-board member, to an Alzheimer’s-stricken octogenarian, to a ravenous monster with remarkable ease. But the true standouts of the cast were Foley artists Jeffrey Gardner and Ele Matelan.

Foley is a technique generally used in film post-production today, but it was originally developed for radio dramas, in which sound effects are added after shooting to enhance the scene. Gardner and Matelan practiced Foley in real-time, mimicking footsteps, explosions, walkie-talkies and more, to alternately creepy and hilarious effects. Their contributions alone are worth the price of admission.

“Deathscribe” is more campy than terrifying, and the individual plays vary in quality. But there’s always something to enjoy about the performance, even when the writing veers too far into the predictable. One of the highlights and the most genuinely frightening of the bunch, is “Skinny,” about a police investigation that uncovers a sinister surprise. Other scripts deal with mad scientists, a miracle cure turned plague and a vengeful imaginary friend.

Far and away the most impressive piece, however, is “Alabama Mermaid,” a 10-minute musical which won the Bloody Axe in the Chicago in 2011. The entire cast are remarkable singers, and their tight harmonies are positively eerie in this tale of mothers turned to empty shells after their children are snatched away.

The doors are shut, the room is dark and there are strangers all around. What’s spookier than a theatre, especially when there’s a spine-chilling show to be seen? “Deathscribe: Miami” is a Halloween cabaret perfect for this scary season.

Rating: 4/5 stars

If you go:

“Deathscribe: Miami”

Where: The Adrienne Arsht Center Peacock Foundation Studio, 1300 Biscayne Blvd. Miami, Fla. 33132

When: 8 p.m. Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday through Oct. 30.

Cost: $39 ($5 tickets are available for the Sunday performance through CultureShock Miami)

For more information, call 305-949-6722 or visit www.arshtcenter.org.