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Tales of Urban Horror
Love in Vein: Sister Mercy Urbana (Jill Heck) and Mark Hidzick go for the jugular in 'Tales of Urban Horror.'



Bindlestiff's 'Tales of Urban Horror' serves up a good scare

By Zack Stentz

Genre fiction generally has a tough time of it when adapted to the stage. One can wait in vain for 2001: A Stage Odyssey or The Ring and I: The Hobbit on Broadway to hit the boards, but unlike its science fiction and fantasy cousins, the horror genre seems ideally suited to make the jump from page to stage.

Both Dracula and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were wildly successful plays in their day, and now Bindlestiff Studio has entered the fray with Tales of Urban Horror, an anthology- style evening of theatrical mayhem and terror. "I'm not sure why horror plays so well on stage," says Rocky Heck, who directs Tales and wrote three of the play's five segments, "but you see a lot of horror elements in respectable, mainstream plays. Look at Peter Shaffer's Equus, which is really quite horrific in its treatment of a middle-aged man of science questioning his faith and exploring some really dark corners of the human mind."

For Lisa Morton, the Los Angles­based writer of the play's other two segments, writing onstage horror required her to switch gears from her accustomed medium of cinema. (Morton wrote the 1988 cult favorite movie Meet the Hollowheads.) "The limitations of stage are really interesting," she says. "Because you can't show as much, you have to use suggestion a lot."

"Some of the power comes from breaking that fourth wall," Heck adds. "When there isn't a glass screen in front of them, the audience can actually feel in physical danger."

Ulp. Physical danger?

"I don't want to give too much away," Heck adds with a sly (dare I say sinister?) grin, "other than to say that there will be a few surprises in store."

In selecting the subject of urban horror, modern life provided Heck and Morton an abundance of material to work with. There does seem a certain irony in choosing to stage a play about urban horrors at the Bindlestiff's performance space at Sixth and Howard streets, in the midst of what one might charitably call a somewhat dicey neighborhood. "Actually, this neighborhood isn't so bad, but I know what you mean," Heck says. "When I came here a couple years back to see Clive Barker's play Frankenstein in Love, I had to park way down by the Tenderloin. And while I was sitting in the theater watching this horror play, I was thinking, 'What I'm watching onstage isn't as scary as the neighborhood I have to walk through at midnight to get back to my car.' "

And as with any good horror anthology, there's the obligatory Crypt Keeper figure on hand to bridge the episodes and offer morbidly witty commentary on the events that unfold. In keeping with the urban horror theme, Tales is narrated by the reanimated corpse of an overdosed Capp Street junkie.

Is this some sort of metaphoric social commentary?

"There are some serious things in there," Heck replies, "but mainly I just want people to get scared and have fun. When I was down in L.A. I did a lot of serious theater, but when I came up here to San Francisco I decided it would be fun to do Creepshow instead."


Tales of Urban Horror plays at Bindlestiff Studio Theatre March 6­29 with 8pm shows Thursdays through Sundays. Tickets are $10; call 974-1167 for reservations.

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From the March 1997 issue of the Metropolitan

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