…IN PIECES, Shockoe Slip Theatre, at the National Pastime Theater. Few genres are as hard to pull off onstage as horror, which has been debased by the use of ghastly makeup and buckets of stage blood. But cunning writers and directors know that what we imagine is always more horrible than what we see.

Brooklyn-based writer Clay McLeod Chapman plays off this fact in each of the five monologues that make up this bill: the horror creeps up on us. We don’t recognize the murderous rage lurking behind the punch lines until about halfway through the apparently comic monologue “Chatterbox,” delivered by a dummy about his ventriloquist. Similarly, in the evening’s most accomplished story, “Rest Area,” a father talks about his lost daughter–but it’s only in the last lines of the piece that we understand how sick their relationship was.

Not all the monologues are equally effective. “Michelle,” about a man’s obsessive relationship with his neighbor’s daughter, and “Correspondence of Corpses,” about a wife’s obsessive relationship with her sailor husband, are similar enough that having heard one, I could guess the ending to the other. And “Honey Well Hung,” about a chicken farmer, is more weird than frightening. But thanks to Mark Duncan’s clean, strong direction and his terrific cast of Chicago newcomers, most of whom seem to have followed him here from Richmond, Virginia, even the show’s weaker pieces sent a few shivers up my spine.

–Jack Helbig