By Tom Lynch
Oracle Productions currently offers the second installment of its “Disturbed” series, a performance installation with a fifteen-minute run time (the show runs continually through the evening) that’s built to, of course, scare the shit out of you. At first, after you enter the physically imposing Oracle Theatre storefront, you’re escorted through a curtain to a video screen the shows a mock-news report about escaped serial killer Thomas Kinzie, on the loose and out of control. Don’t try to talk to him. Alert authorities immediately. He’s armed. He’s very, very dangerous.
You’re then pushed into the theater space, a small room with a roped-off middle, where you’re instructed to stand. The performance occurs around you, in two different sets, and a video screen hovers above. Taking cues more from recent horror films (think “Saw,” even “Hostel”) than any sort of horror theater, “Disturbed II” finds its fright more in darker themes than darker imagery. You’re more troubled by the show’s aggressiveness, not necessarily by what you see. In the end, like all great horror films, you think you see more than you actually do.
“The biggest question that came up when we sat around [discussing the show] was ‘What scares us?’” says the show’s writer and director Colby Hanik. “We decided it was watching something horrible happen to a loved one and not being able to do anything about it. Violation. Entrapment. Overall helplessness, not being in control.”
Hanik, who grew up in Villa Park, says the show’s relatively short length is for the actors’—and audience’s—benefit. “The season depicts a shorter show as well, to draw people in, so they can come see it and do other things that night, make the rounds,” he says. “Logistically, a shorter show is better. Maintaining a high level of fear in a live theater setting—that’s hard to do for the audience and the actors…it’s fifteen minutes of high-impact acting.”
In fact, in its current run, a few audience members have passed out during performances. “One aspect is that that’s an extreme reaction, and we did something powerful enough to [cause] that,” Hanik says. “But truthfully I feel bad. It’s an embarrassing thing to happen, we have to stop the show, turn the lights on, bring them water.”
The show’s explicit material and imagery—make no mistake, this is for adults—takes these themes further than you might expect, and Hanik says that during the brainstorming session, it was even darker. “We did cross some lines, so there were moments where we pulled back,” he says. “Also, we [decided] we don’t really need to have the audiences standing and seeing what is actually happening. It’s a little graphic. So is film horror in general—it’s got this pornographic nature in what they’re showing. We play more with what people are hearing and seeing in their mind’s eye.”
“Distrubed II” has so far been the theater company’s most popular show, and Hanik and crew plan to revamp the show each passing Halloween season. “We’ll hone in different skills to heighten the experience,” he says. “There’s a lot of new ideas floating around.”
“Disturbed II” runs at the Oracle Theatre, 3809 North Broadway, (773)244-2980, through October 31.