I wasn't aware of my taste for the macabre until I bought a picture of a dead pig.
It isn't just any dead pig. It was a Panamanian dead pig.
In muted sepia tones, an old black man in a baseball cap and plaid shirt is boiling a cauldron of water and holding a knife. He's about to butcher the hog.
It's ominous. I loved it.
The photograph isn't beautiful. The animal is lying in its own blood. But the blood, the pig, and the wet, dark earth beneath it are captivating. Moving. Hard. Brutal.
It didn't bother me that I found a photograph of a dead pig aesthetically pleasing. But I did wonder if perhaps it should bother me.
After all, it's a pig.
A dead one.
Later, I bought a photograph of a mannequin on a bed. It resembled a corpse. Maybe there is something wrong with me? What is it about the macabre that commands our gaze? Why is it sometimes, like my corpse-like mannequin, an image of beauty?
I don't remember if we bought the photograph in the fall, but this would be the time in the Lowcountry to celebrate the aesthetics of death.
For some reason, perhaps the tilt of the earth, perhaps the imminence of Halloween, October promises a host of stage productions of the same suspicious and scintillating sensibility as my dead pig.
If they aren't macabre, they're close. Gothic, romantic, grotesque, horrific — any of these might suffice in describing this month's menu of the macabre.
But October's aesthetic isn't one-dimensional, like the trashy surreal erotica of H.R. Giger. It's more like the other side of Nietzsche's theory of drama.
In ancient Greece, Dionysus, the god of wine and fertility, was annually honored by naming a young man king for a day.
The "king" was given everything he wanted — food, wine, sex, money, power.
At the end of the day, he was taken off into the sunset by a throng of virgins.
More sex? No.
They pulled him apart limb from limb.
Sometimes it's not so good to be king.
Oct. 10-11, 7:30 p.m. $33-$63. North Charleston Performing Arts Center, 5001 Coliseum Drive. (843) 529-5050. www.coliseumpac.com
Call it the culinary school of the macabre. A deranged barber slits his customers' throats and sends them to a bakery to be made into meat pies. Makes you wonder if Mrs. Lovett was thinking Arby's or Quiznos.
Mmmm ... toasty?
Stephen Sondheim's brilliant and tragic musical was especially bloody in the hands of Tim Burton. His 2007 film starred Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.
I'm not sure if it's beautiful, but Carter's singing was memorably macabre. Who doesn't feel like opening a vein on hearing chirping like that?
You can expect a better rendering of the story this weekend.
The Broadway touring production is based on John Doyle's 2005 revival. The setting is a psych ward, and the musicians and actors are one and the same.
The result is intimate, intense, and powerful stuff.
Oct. 15-18, 23-25, 30-Nov. 1, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 19 and 26, 3 p.m. $22-$29.
Memminger Auditorium, 56 Beaufain St.
(843) 559-4109. www.charletstonstage.com
Whatever anxiety our society has about cybernetics, biotechnology, and robotics can be traced all the way back to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.
Brought to life at the peak of British Romanticism, hers was the original cyborg, the Ur-alien, the proto-robot.
Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, and William Gibson owe her a lot. So does Julian Wiles, founder of Charleston Stage.
Wiles was looking for a good version of the Frankenstein story, but didn't find one he liked. So he returned to the original.
What he discovered was a character we don't recognize anymore, so accustomed are we to the images and sounds of Hollywood.
"There's no electricity or lightning," Wiles says. "That's all in the movies."
In Wiles' adaptation, the creature is a metaphor for dividedness and hope (I wonder if it's possible to give the same significance to Dr. Frank-N-Furter's ripped-and-ready Rocky?).
Shelley's monster is human and he is not. He is one and he is neither. Perhaps he can learn to be, but it's unlikely he ever will.
Then he starts killing people.
Oh, the humanity!
This is the first production Charleston Stage will have done in the newly renovated Memminger Auditorium. Wiles says it's going to take a little time to learn how it works in terms of sound and lighting and other technical aspects.
But once they get going, I'm sure Wiles' Frankenstein will be smooth sailing.
Edgar Allan Poe: Back From the Grave
Oct. 11, 7, 7:30, 8, 8:30 p.m. $30-$50.
Fort Moultrie, 1214 Middle St. Sullivan's Island.
(843) 881-3780. www.creativespark.org
He may have invented the detective story.
And he may have inspired modernist poetry.
But Poe, the author of the short story "The Fall of the House of Usher," will always be known as the quintessential goth.
Minus eyeliner, of course.
And the fish-net stockings.
Anyway, it's definitely macabre.
Creative Spark, a nonprofit community arts center in Mt. Pleasant, presents "interactive dramatizations of Poe's poems and stories."
Poe was a soldier at Fort Moultrie. While stationed there, he gathered material for many of his great stories, including "The Gold Bug," a prototype of the mystery genre.
Carol Antman, director of Creative Spark, calls Back from the Grave a "dream inside the dream of Poe's mind."
"Actors from The Dead Poe Society performing vignettes and poems, musical entertainment from the cast of The Rocky Horror Show and amazing special effects from Wonderworlds will transport you into the
madness and genius of one of our country's greatest storytellers," Antman says.
War of the Worlds
Oct. 17-18, 24-25, 30-Nov. 1, 8 p.m. Oct. 26 and Nov. 5, 5 p.m. Village Playhouse, 730 Coleman Blvd., Mt. Pleasant. (843) 856-1579. www.villageplayhouse.com
It's debatable whether Orson Welles' radio play, adapted in Charleston for the stage by the Village Playhouse, falls into the category of the macabre.
But it is about the devestation of the planet Earth. It is scary, as in listeners to the original 1938 broadcast thought it was real, because it was delivered like a news report. It's creepy, as in how slimy and crawly are H.G. Wells' aliens?
And it's not comical, like the film starring Scientologist Tom Cruise, whose fear of aliens is unintentionally and ironically undermined by his belief in aliens.
L. Ron Hubbard invented a term for them — "body thetans." No, really.
You can look it up.
Keely Enright, the Playhouse's producing artistic director, first adapted War of the Worlds seven years ago when the Mt. Pleasant venue first opened.
Since then, many of her patrons have asked for its reprisal. This return comes on the 70th anniversary of the radio play, a landmark anniversary that Enright felt was important to observe.
"It's part of our mission to raise awareness of 20th-century masterpieces," Enright says. "Welles was a major contributor to that culture. He illustrated the power of mass media and mass hysteria."
The Rocky Horror Show: Live
Oct. 24, 8 and 11 p.m. Oct. 25, 8 p.m.
Terrace Theatre, 1956-D Maybank Hwy.
(843) 762-9494. www.terracetheater.com
This is the story of two innocents caught in a web of deceit and perversity.
It's also a classic story so kitschy as to be forever emblazoned on the minds of a certain type of American who finds it funny to see men in leather, heels, and fish nets.
Call it the giggly side of the macabre, the camp where life is happy and gay.
But don't expect Tim Curry impersonations here.
The Little City Musical Theatre Company, a recent start-up ensemble, is staging the original version of the musical. It means to ramp up the satire, the biting wit, the social commentary acid — while reducing its less threatening goofiness.
Even though there's no "picture" in this show, it's taking place at the Terrace Theatre. The decision was a ballsy move for a ballsy production by the young theater group and a highly anticipated one.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Oct. 30 and Nov. 1, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 31, 7:30 p.m. and midnight.
Charleston Ballet Theatre, 477 King St.
(843) 723-7334. www.charlestonballet.org
Brad and Janet never moved so well as they will for the Charleston Ballet Theatre's dance version of the story.
This is the sultry side of the macabre, maybe even the erotic side.
Anne Rice would like this, or at least she would have before she found Jesus.
So would Francis Ford Coppola.
There's something dangerous about an evil genius in a black leather teddy who's playing God, something sexy, too.
Well, OK. But you can't deny the difference between Dr. Frank-N-Furter and Dr. Frankenstein.
One's more of a dandy.
One's got more (how you say?) joie de vivre.
Charleston Ballet Theatre is taking on some complex classics this season, Carmen and The Great Gatsby being only two.
With The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the CBT is letting its hair down. Given the caliber of its performances, this special presentation comes highly recommended.