New Theater Group Wants to Get Weird With You

12 Peers Productions brings Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s horror-kitsch to Lawrenceville.

There are people in the world who would prefer Christmas to be a year-round event. They leave Santa Claus paraphernalia in their homes at all times, they decorated their freshman-year dorms with strings of blinking lights and they’re liable to bust out renditions of “White Christmas” (or, somewhat more tolerably, Elvis’ “Blue Christmas”) in mid-summer. Aside from the fact that they’re helping spread the intolerable Christmas Creep further and further into the autumn, who can blame them? They love their holiday, and why not celebrate year-round?

I’m exactly like that, but with Halloween. I need something creepy, campy and macabre around at absolutely all times. I’m sitting in my office as I type this, and just within sight, there’s a small jack-o-lantern votive holder, a series of cryptozoology action figures (Loch Ness Monster, Jersey Devil, Bigfoot, Chupacabra and Mothman,) a signed sketch of Doug Bradley of the Hellraiser films, a postcard of a West Virginia penitentiary electric chair … the list goes on. What’s the farthest you’ve driven in a day to attend a haunted house? Maybe an hour? I’ve done a seven-hour round trip.

Point is, I like creepy stuff. All year long.

So it brings me great pleasure that brand-new theater group 12 Peers Productions chose Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa's The Weird as their inaugural production. Aguirre-Sacasa is a playwright and comic book writer, known for his over-the-top, imaginative stories, always featuring a bit of horror kitsch; one of his early plays was called Say You Love Satan, a romantic comedy revision of The Omen. Somehow, penning issues of Fantastic Four and psuedo-spooky off-Broadway hits has led to gigs writing for “Big Love” and “Glee.”

The Weird returns Aguirre-Sacasa to his wheelhouse, though. The show is a collection of short plays in the style of horror anthologies like “Tales From the Crypt” or Creepshow; these vignettes are more humor than terror, however. A scientist and his secretary explore their feelings across the specimen jars in “Insect Love”; an undergrad goes to find his lover deep in the bayou in “Swamp Gothic”; a disgruntled housewife gets an assist from the undead in “Morning Becomes Olestra.”

The skits are funny, original and fast-paced. All contain a dose of sheer ridiculousness, a send-up of horror convention and a surprising moment or two of genuine emotion and insight. The ensemble cast, who all play multiple roles, deftly balance the extreme characterizations and absurd scenarios with genuine, heart-on-a-sleeve emotion.

The presentation, though, is a big part of the appeal. Artistic Director Vince Ventura—who also served as Director for this production—will usher you in to a dimly lit Grey Box Theater, directing you to rows of chairs lined with dollar-store headstones, encouraging you to grab a box of popcorn before you settle in. Themes from Halloween and The Shining pulse through the air before the first scene, “Bloody Mary”, commences; at its conclusion, you’ll be introduced to your host for the evening, the zombified M.T. Grave. Played uproariously by local improv all-star John Feeightner, Grave is a low-rent Beetlejuice, cackling and creeping throughout the evening to tie the stories together.

Taken on its own, The Weird is a fun, refreshing night at the theater, from a company stripped of pretension and eager to please. As the debut of 12 Peers, though, it’s yet another sign that the theater scene in Pittsburgh is getting more bold and diverse by the minute. The company instantly joins the ranks of young groups in the area worth your immediate attention and attendance, and I’m eager to see where they’re headed from here.

(3595 Butler St, Lawrenceville. Thu-Sat, 8 p.m.; Sun, 2 p.m. $15; students and seniors, $10. Info and tickets: 12peerstheater.org)

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