Danny Deferrari and Abe Goldfard in Dread Awakening(Photo © Lauren Braun
Danny Deferrari and Abe Goldfard in Dread Awakening
(Photo © Lauren Braun
Alfred Hitchcock has been quoted as having said, "There is no terror in a bang, only in the anticipation of it." The master of film suspense demonstrated this phenomenon many times, but theater directors cannot control what the audience sees in the same way, and that has presented an interesting challenge for the creators of Dread Awakening. These four short horror plays, programmed together in a show with a total running time of about an hour, are mostly entertaining but not all of them quicken our pulses.

The opener, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's Bloody Mary, comes closest to earning its gasps as well as its laughs. We see two sexually curious college kids driving on an abandoned highway to Shadow Lake, the site of a massacre that has become a local folk legend. Ben (Jedadiah Schultz) tries scaring his girlfriend Laurie (Christianna Nelson) by any means necessary -- turning off the car's lights, paying little attention to where he's driving, and trying to summon the ghost "Bloody Mary" by invoking her name 49 times. Smartly directed by Pat Diamond, the play creates a real sense of comic foreboding, both spoofing and taking lessons from teenage horror flicks. When all of the lights go out, the audience is filled with apprehension as we wonder if the blonde is going to get it.

Clay McLeod Chapman, creator of the often eerie Pumpkin Pie Show, serves up pearls, a psychological thriller about a dentist (Robert Funaro) who has an unhealthy fixation on one of his patients (Meredith Holzman). He reveals his fantasies of stealing her away from her husband in a lengthy monologue as the anesthetized woman lies in the dentist's chair, and she remains blissfully unconscious when his hands stray southward from her mouth. Those who saw Funaro as Eugene on The Sopranos know that this actor is good at playing creepy characters, and he's compulsively watchable here. Director Arin Arbus indulges in no flashy shock effects, instead allowing the acting and writing to unsettle us.

On the other hand, Justin Swain's Treesfall leaves one wishing for the sort of trick editing that make B-movies bearable. Paul (Abe Goldfarb) has received a job promotion at the same time that his friend Tree (Daniel Deferrari) finds his life falling apart. Insanely jealous, Tree makes a drunken fool of himself in front of his girlfriend Amy (Margie Stokley) and Paul, parading around in his tighty-whities and accusing them of having an affair; he harbors great guilt over the recent death of another friend, and he's punished in a highly implausible manner. Director Jessica Davis-Irons draws unfocused performances from the actors, especially Deferarri.

Eric Sanders's Sleep Mask does not refer to the small cloth variety that one wears over the eyes on an overnight flight. Instead, James (Joe Plummer) sports a frightening, green-and-black, leather-and-latex, full-face mask that he believes will exfoliate his skin, relax his mind, and even strip away odd wrinkles and crow's feet. His girlfriend Annie (Jenny Gammello) refuses to sleep next to a man who resembles the love child of The Tick and Swamp Thing. Directed by Amanda Charlton, the play is too absurd to engender horror, but it's an effective satire of America's obsession with youth and cosmetic quick fixes.