Here's a joke that has nothing whatsoever to do with Halloween: What does Toronto theatre these days have in common with Dick Cheney near the end of his vice presidency?
It's frequently in an undisclosed location.
Okay, not the funniest joke ever, but this is indeed an emerging trend among many of the city's independent companies. First, you buy your tickets to a show, then you find out where it is.
If you went to see the indie hit Matchbox Macbeth this weekend – which I did, but too late to actually write anything about it – at least you knew before purchasing that you were going to end up in a shed somewhere in Little Italy.
In the case of Doc Wuthergloom's Haunted Medicine Show, the latest spooky production timed around Halloween from Eric Woolfe's Eldritch Theatre, you don't even know what neighbourhood you'll be in until you've committed.
The secret location, disappointingly, turns out to be a space usually used for theatre. This leads me to believe the gimmick is largely about getting people from my end of town to cross the Don Valley. In which case, it worked.
Having knocked on the door of the small theatre space in question and whispered the password to a masked doorwoman, I entered and awaited the arrival of the titular Doc Wuthergloom, who I believe I'm permitted to tell you is played by playwright, puppeteer and magician Woolfe.
Doc Wuthergloom – Woolfe in skull makeup, bald head hidden under a top hat and wearing a large, striped blazer with many conveniently located pockets – does indeed perform in the style of an old travelling medicine show.
Rather than peddling snake oil, however, Wuthergloom is hawking a home exorcism guide. Audience members can actually buy this DIY manual for $5, and many did on the night I attended. (Woolfe is brilliant at theatrical upselling.) Wuthergloom occasionally pulls out a ukulele to sing a tune, but generally he barks his stories in a voice that would be perfect if we were indeed outdoors at a medicine show on the side of the road. Inside, his delivery is a tad shouty and the old-fashioned, high-falutin' language becomes a tiresome shtick.
Many of Wuthergloom's phantasmagorical fables eventually morph into magic routines – and this is where I found the show most appealing. He does, for instance, the hoary but nevertheless harrowing bit where one swallows five razor blades, then pulls them out of one's mouth on a thread.
He also has a few mind-boggling card tricks up his sleeve. For an extra $10, you can see four very good ones with accompanying banter in the basement afterward. (What did I tell you – an upselling genius.) Woolfe's sleight of hand is not as impressive, but perhaps to a spectator who spent less time trying to master coin manipulation in the eighth grade it would be.
I enjoyed his banter with audience volunteers more than the scripted part. The term "volunteer" is used loosely; following in the grand tradition of mildly pervy prestidigitators, Wuthergloom/Woolfe has a tendency to select the most attractive, young women in attendance to participate.
You could do worse for a Halloween week's entertainment – a young boy who was there seemed particularly enthralled by it all.
Doc Wuthergloom's Haunted Medicine Show runs through Nov. 6.
Doc Wuthergloom's Haunted Medicine Show
- Created by and starring Eric Woolfe
- Directed by Christine Brubaker
- An Eldritch Theatre production
- At a secret location in Toronto