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Communique: "TheaTerror" Mimicks 80s Slasher Flicks | TheatreNow

Zach Hanner
Terror in the theater..."TheaTerror"

Chase Harrison has a new play onstage at Theatre Now. Harrison loves those 80s slasher flicks and he poured that love (and horror) into TheaTerror, a horror/comedy set in the fictional Penny Theater where a production of Macbeth is underway. The show can't go on, however, if the actors keep mysteriously disappearing.

Listen to two actresses from the show, Erin Hunter and Melissa Randall, talk about the show, and find our extended conversation below. TheaTerror is a dinner show with 3 performances left at this writing: Friday, 10/27; Saturday, 10/28; and Tuesday, 10/31 (Halloween).  TheatreNow lists the show as for mature audiences, and Hunter and Randall say it would probably be a PG-13 film. 

Credit WHQR/gg
Erin Hunter (l) & Melissa Randall


Jessica Farmer as Charlie Band
Erin Hunter as Lin Palmer
Nicole P. Horton as Donna Cushing
Melissa Randall as Renee Castle
Jay Zadeh as Kenny Carpenter
Heather Costello as Danielle Soles
Rick Forrester as Simon Corman

Erin: I play Lynn Palmer, who was one of the founding memory members of the company that left three years ago and now she's back and happy to be back but not happy about how she left.

Melissa: I play Renee Castle, who is a grumpy, curmudgeon-y techie who runs everything backstage in the show and she complains about everything but she loves everything that she does.

Gina:  What is the story of this show?

Melissa: The Penny, which is a community theater- very similar to what the Browncoat was, that was what kind of inspired it, as Chase puts it- is a small community theater that is struggling and they put on a production of Macbeth that turns out to be a little cursed because as the show goes on, some of the cast and crew start to disappear. From the beginning, the audience sees there's a kind of serial killer who has a thing for Shakespeare taking the cast out one by one.

Erin: And there are little nuggets that kind of come up throughout the whole thing, so you never know exactly who the suspect is. Everybody's kind of a suspect.

Melissa: It's like a fun whodunit. Look for clues, try to figure out who's behind it kind of show.

Gina: And is it because somebody said Macbeth in the theater?

Credit James Bowling
Rick Forrester in TheaTerror

Erin: That plays into it for sure, but in the end, maybe not entirely what the problem is.

Melissa: There is a fun little quip that the character of Donna, who's the director of the show on stage, says, “Don't say the M word at the theater” because someone quite brazenly just starts saying, "Macbeth, Macbeth" and she's like, "Don't say that, it's cursed" and it's just a little wink at the audience.

Erin: I'm assuming that's probably why he went with that particular play. To have that kind of joke in there and have it be part of it. No, it's not entirely that.

Gina: Erin, you said this was a play that you'd never done anything like it.

Erin: I haven't.

Gina: What is it about the play?

Erin:  In the film world I have done a lot of independent horror films- many of which I hope nobody ever sees- but I have never done a horror play before. I think there are some. It's not unheard of, but it's unique. And this one to be so fun and funny and representing both film from the 80s and theater- a lot of like poking fun at theater and actors and techs and the whole theater world. It's just really unique and it's really a blast. I'm having so much fun.

Gina: And Chase wrote it and is directing it.

Erin: Yes.

Melissa: Yes.

Gina: Has he been flexible throughout the directing process?

Erin: Incredibly so. Really, really open to critique and ideas and we've all had a lot of them because it's the first time it's ever been staged. So there are things that he wrote that you don't realize until you're trying to execute it that this doesn't really work or there are problems.

Melissa: Yeah, I would say that two of the things that I run into, and so has Nicole who plays Donna, is both of our roles were gender swapped. So there are things that were said that were very, very polite, and we were like, “I don't think she would say it like that. I don't think she'd put it so crudely, maybe she'd say it like this instead.” And Chase has been really cool about taking that feedback and kind of running with it and being like, “Yeah, you know what, just give the character whatever life you want to give them and just kind of see where it goes.” And that's been really awesome to just kind of have that freedom.

Gina: Is there any legitimately scary thing in it? Or is it kind of all tongue in cheek?

Erin: Well, Gwynefar in her review for Encore said that she was actually scared in moments so, maybe. Other people said it's just fun. I guess it depends on your perspective.

Melissa: I would say mostly fun. I can think of a particular scene or two that is like that- that shock factor to it. It's scary because you don't really see it coming and then it just kind of happens in front of you. Other than that I would just say fun.

Erin: I don't think anybody should not come because they're scared.

Gina: What about children?

Melissa: They're have been kids there. I wouldn't say, “Hey, bring your kids,” but I've seen children there probably between the ages of 9 and 15 and no one ever really looks frightened.

Erin: Maybe not young, young kids.

Melissa: Oh no, no.  There's some slight profanity in some of the scenes. Nothing too extreme but just something to be aware of. I would say, if it was a movie it would be rated PG-13.

Erin: I would agree.

Gina: Is there any music or sound effects?

Melissa: They actually created a score for the show that plays whenever the killer is on stage and he's about to kill someone. There's a special kind of tune that comes on and it's like a little ominous but still very theatrical. I'd probably compare it to a very modern Phantom of the Opera sound.

Gina: And this is not Chase's first play.

Erin: No, it is not. He did Windigo and he won Best Original Playwright or Best Original Play. Something to that effect for that. And that was a horror show as well. And it was actually it was frightening. I was scared. That was- it wasn't funny. It was scary.

Gina: So this one is a little more funny...

Erin: Yeah, this one is just more fun. It's like Halloween, Halloween season.

Melissa: I would agree with that. There's that kind of scary winking scary things but I would never say you'll be scared watching it.

Erin: No, not really.

Gina:  Melissa, you're sort of new to Wilmington?

Melissa: I've been back and forth for a couple of years. I'm new to the theater community. I started with the Laramie Project that was earlier this season with Big Dawg productions and I played Romaine Patterson. And I've done, ironically, some behind the scenes tech work for local shows as well. Upcoming The Dining Room, I'm stage managing that and then I did Twelve Angry Men, did the lights for the Hermit of Fort Fisher and so I've kind of switched back and forth between acting and behind the scenes, but I think it was kind of ironic that I got this opportunity to work this character. 

Gina: And Erin tell us about your history.

Erin: I've been in Wilmington for years and I've done a bunch of theater here. I've done quite a bit of film when we had film here. And this is actually my fourth show with TheatreNOW in the past year.

Gina: Do you want to say anything about the food that's with this show?

Melissa: I like the Stromboli. It's pumpkin stromboli or something, which is an interesting idea that's executed very well. I thought it was really good.

Erin: It was really good. The menu is really good. The chef there is amazing. Chef Denise. She's awesome and she creates a unique menu for every show. So I'm not sure exactly what the theme of this one was other than Halloween, but I've heard rave reviews about everything.

Gina: Any last words?

Erin: Come see it! Don't miss it. I would want to see if I weren't in it.

Melissa: A lot of people that I've invited to come to the show that came out of obligation said that they didn't expect it to be as funny and entertaining as it was and they're really happy that they saw it.