Bloody puppetry

The Ghastly Dreadfuls' reenacts hilarious and horror-filled ghost stories

Thursday October 13, 2016 05:50 pm EDT

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The Ghastly Dreadfuls is community service for the undead. At least that’s what Jon Ludwig, Center for Puppetry Arts artistic director and one of the masterminds behind the Halloween spectacular, considers it. Seven ghosts — or Dreadfuls, as they’re known in the show — wield puppets to recount 10-minute ghost stories that alternate between comedy and horror: a train worker hears a terrifying whistle, unfaithful trapeze artists dive through the air, ghosts sing along to Disney themes, and a young girl slashes throats in her bloody search for love.

“They’re all sweet and horrible in their own little way,” Ludwig tells CL.

Ludwig and fellow Ghastly Dreadfuls creator Jason Hines looked through hundreds of ghost legends from all corners of the world, choosing the most visual and gripping tales for the show. These narratives scatter throughout original stories written for the Center, songs, and dances. The ghosts use a variety of puppets to depict the pieces, including marionettes and shadow puppets. Now in its 10th season, part of the show’s fun is coming year after year to see which old shorts return as part of the current lineup. It’s inspired a cult-following — fans actively complain about the loss of their favorite stories.

This year, the Center tries its hand at a Grand Guignol piece. Named for the Paris theater it originated in, Grand Guignol is turn-of-the-century horror theater focused on creating graphic, naturalistic imagery. In “The Horrific Experiment: A Grand Guignol,” a doctor and his assistant make many gory attempts to revive the doctor’s daughter. The script was written in 1902 and later performed at the Grand Guignol, so the piece is a pretty darn good representation of what audiences attending the french theater would expect to see. Well, other than the fact it’s performed by puppets.

The Ghastly Dreadfuls proves that if you keep on changing, you never really die.

The Ghastly Dreadfuls. $18.75-$25. 8 p.m. Wed.-Sat., Oct.12-29. Center for Puppetry Arts, 1404 Spring St. N.W. 404-873-3391. www.puppet.org.

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