You can go see a Halloween-esque show. In fact, it’s hard to swing a disembodied hand around without hitting one this time of year. Sit in the theater and enjoy or truly immerse yourself into a story, as you must when you witness “The Silence in Harrow House.”
The production, presented by the Rough House Theatre Co. at the Chopin Theatre in Chicago, is a psychological trip through a twisted man’s Utopian fantasies. Dark in both mind and light, this walk through a “haunted house” pushes you to come to a creepy conclusion about the evils of mankind … and possibly the evil in you.
Yes, you get up and walk around, but it’s a casual walk. Take all the time you want in each area. It’s 50 minutes with no breaks because he doesn’t want you to have any breaks. Who is he, you ask? Oh you will have a tour guide: the curator of Harrow House.
He’s creepy, but somewhat enthusiastically charming as he tells the tale of Milton Harrow, the world’s most influential and reclusive architect. It is in Harrow’s parlor that you sit, listening to Beethoven’s Romance for Violin, No. 2, awaiting instructions.
In the beginning, the play – written so well by Claire Saxe and Mark Maxwell – starts out somewhat whimsical, almost beckoning you to enjoy a peek into an “enlightened” future.
But as you circle the “house,” this enlightenment turns decidedly darker, with each corner, each peek into another room, becoming more and more macabre.
Notes start creeping up, crumbled letters and bits of paper you pick up to read give you clues about what’s really going on in Harrow House. Walls move, creatures scurry from place to place. Sounds start getting more intrusive as the time ticks away.
“The Silence in Harrow House” is not designed to scare your dinner out of you. It is certainly creepy, but it’s more of you witnessing a man’s macabre way of how society should move to his futuristically twisted beat.
The direction, finding the right pace to present each sympathetic character, is expertly handled by Mike Oleon. These characters are brought forth by puppetry. However, these are not the “Hey, kids, let’s go check out the cute puppets coming out of the tiny box” kind of puppets. They’re mutants – human parts come alive, victims of a sinister mind begging you to discover your own empathy for something so creepily repellent.
Lead puppet designer Grace Needlman and her fellow puppeteers have created a slew of deliciously spine-tingling creatures.
Although these created creatures certainly are spellbinding in their own way, what gets to you as you circle in the Harrow House is the combination of light and sound. The lighting, or lack thereof in same parts, is handled well by David Goodman-Edberg.
To simply say the sound is haunting would be a disservice to the effort put forth in sound design by Corey Smith and sound engineering by Zach Moore.
The sound simply carries you to one level after another and to the twisted conclusion of “The Silence in Harrow House.” Nice choice of an ending song using “Mr. Creator” by The Apollas.
My only issue with the play would be the slow build-up to said twisted, and great, conclusion. Although allowing each audience member to get to the inevitable point, it takes a while to get there.
Speaking of getting there, the easiest way is to take the Metra to the Clybourn station. Once there, make a choice best for you – Uber/Lyft/cab/Divvy/your own feet – a mile down Ashland to the Chopin Theatre. However, if a creepy puppet-man meets you at the station, politely tell him you’ll find your own way.
• Rick Copper is a writer, photographer, storyteller, part-time actor and comedian with a framed master’s degree from the Northwestern Medill School of Journalism and a loose certificate of completion sheet of paper from Second City’s improv program.