WHISPERING CITY: Great Chicago Ghost Stories, Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Michele Volansky and director Jessica Thebus have collected vintage Chicago ghost stories in this creepy creation–proof that a city’s darker urban legends can be haunting in themselves. Using three revolving doors, the sepulchral set from Steppenwolf’s Side Man, and a supple score by Andre Pluess and Ben Sussman, the eight cast members provide some very engaging storytelling.
There are no big scares or special effects: like The Blair Witch Project, this piece requires audience collaboration in the mystery. With chilling understatement, Lusia Strus tells how the Hull-House “devil baby,” born in 1913 with a cigar in its mouth, was exorcised with a pail of water. Speaking two languages and using a mirror, Sandra Delgado makes us see the “llorona” that drowned her children. Amy Warren has fun with the wife of Chicago’s onetime “sausage king,” supposedly boiled and processed into links. And the juggling Chris Williford plays a street performer who blames himself for the 1915 Eastland ferry disaster.
Eric Aviles describes a specter that transforms people into snow, Stephanie Childers conjures up Archer Avenue’s “Resurrection Mary,” Darren Bochat creeps us out with a dead woman’s refusal to decompose, and Cynthia Maddox evokes the Bridgeport “devil at Kaiser Hall,” a handsome, hooved stranger. The one misfire is a too arch portrait of Al Capone, stalked by a ghost from the Saint Valentine’s Day massacre. Well, you can’t scare ’em all.