Claire Saxe in House of the Exquisite Corpse Credit: Evan Barr

After a long pandemic hiatus, it is once again demon puppet time at the Chopin Theatre, where Rough House Theater Company’s cabaret of ghouls returns for House of the Exquisite Corpse, a revamped, social-distanced take on its 2019 immersive play-slash-haunted-mansion Halloween special, The Silence in Harrow House. Co-artistic director Mike Oleon’s showcase spaces six puppet horror sketches across six large boxes that audiences, traversing the area in groups, peer into through peepholes in the outer wall. Headphoned, masked, and even face-shielded (courtesy of the theater, but mandatory), this is not the viewing situation most people dream of when the opportunity to watch a humongous eyeball pilot its unicycling pet bird into the fiery abyss, for instance, presents itself. But if the puppet action is thrilling enough, as it frequently is, you crane over and deal with it, forgetting to ask why, in the name of all that is spooky, the night was designed this way. [Update: as of Friday, October 15, Rough House has decided to make face shields optional for audience members for the remainder of the run.]

House of the Exquisite Corpse
Through 10/30: Thu-Sat (timed entries every 15 minutes between 7 and 10:30 PM), Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division, roughhousetheater.com, $21-$26.

Illusions are hard to sustain, even without face shields. But to their credit, the artists behind the show’s more daring pieces invite a new kind of puppet-viewing, one that never hides the hand pulling the strings, as with the box designed to look like the inside of a heart, brainchild of co-artistic director Claire Saxe, with a styrofoam man trapped in it and a very obvious red-jumpsuited puppeteer manipulating him. Oddly, the horror and magic felt realer the more performers exposed the mechanism, whereas the more heightened boxes felt a little like watching a play through a peephole with a fogged-up face shield on.