Asingle voice telling a single story might not sound like a pleasant hour’s entertainment, even if the story is an account of a grisly child murder on an oppressively hot day. But this story is authored by Joyce Carol Oates, who rejects lurid speculation on the facts of the case to describe, in meticulous detail, the many ancillary personalities affected by the event. Penlight Theater director Eric Ziegenhagen likewise allows the material, which is read verbatim, central focus. Narrator Sarah Phemister makes no attempt to mimic the personalities she describes but offers her testimony with a stone-faced impassivity that masks the carefully crafted phrases. Punctuating her words with carousel-projector slides (included only for the sake of stage business–the slides are blank), she evokes a smothering sultriness–no easy task in Voltaire’s gloomy basement only an hour before midnight–to create a simmering portrait of small-town horror. Voltaire, 3231 N. Clark, 312-409-2674. Through November 22: Fridays-Saturdays, 11 PM. $7. –Mary Shen Barnidge
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Alec Soth.