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Dead men's parties 

Tricks and treats in store at local theaters

Many are the ways of getting into the Halloween spirit. Spend a few hours staring at the big skull at the entrance of the Vortex in Little Five Points. Stuck in bumper-to-bumper, rush-hour traffic, go trick-or-treating at the other stopped cars. For an undeniable sense of dread, contemplate our presidential choices.

Or, rather than putting your sanity at risk, you can avail yourself to the different theatrical possibilities to be had. Aside from the various live "haunted house" experiences held this time of year, many playhouses are inspired by the masquerades and gruesome storytelling at Halloween and are acting as eerie content providers.

The Center for Puppetry Arts promises an especially spooky spectacle with XPTerror, a Halloween-themed edition of its "Xperimental Puppetry Theater" forum for adult audiences, with no one under 18 admitted. The program features a reprise of the unforgettable breakdancing skeletons from Jon Ludwig's Heaven/Hell Tour as well as other short puppetry pieces.

Bobby Box's "Sparky and the Ghouls," in which a lovable pooch romps through a local graveyard, is billed as "Night of the Living Dead meets Benji." Kipp McIntyre's "Metamora" offers a chilling depiction of writer's block, while Reay Kaplan's Appalachian ghost story "Snip! Snip!" involves two newlyweds, a wayward sister and a pair of gardening clippers. Ryan Dunn, Scott Warren and Lorna Howley offer an untitled piece depicting the thrills of a haunted puppet storage room. On Oct. 27, the Center's "Dress To Kill" party offers $2 discounts for costumed attendees, music from Casper Fandango and the Cookies and Laughing Skull beer at "Lorna's Lounge."

Sensurround Staging draws on the grisly, outlawed tradition of the French Grand Guignol theater for Professor Guignol's Theatre of Blood. Artistic director Michael Katinsky concedes that a certain amount of splattering may be involved: "It's gonna be a great show, and we're advising that people set up an appointment with their dry cleaner ahead of time before coming to see it."

Katinsky and Sensurround co-founder Aileen Loy conceived the evening's three pieces with artists Justin Welborn, Nicole Blair and Berny Clark, and they promise a show featuring a dozen young actors, decapitation, strangulation, musical numbers and creative uses of finger foods. Professor Guignol's Theatre of Blood will be held at the arts and entertainment complex eleven50, a space formerly occupied by Peachtree Playhouse, Petrus and Axys. "It's an unbelievable bit of good fortune for us that we get to perform our re-invention of a turn-of-the-century genre on an authentic 1920's proscenium stage," says Katinsky. "The space, the genre, the time of year -- it's just a great combination."

As a fund-raiser for its upcoming 2001 projects, Soul-stice theater presents its second annual presentation of Bram Stoker's Dracula, adapted by Steven Dietz. Directed by Heidi Cline, Dracula will be held at the intimate, shadowy Back Stage space at 7 Stages, which can be a chilling venue even for the happiest of scripts.

Dad's Garage offers a quirky take on the season with "Devil's Night," a series of comedic, Halloween-themed performance arts pieces, with such artists as Tim Cordier, Anthony Melita, Marc Cram and Dead Beat Burt offering everything from song to spoken word. "Devil's Night" will be held at midnight Oct. 27 at the theater's Top Shelf space, and admission ranges from free to $5, determined by the roll of a die. (If you roll a six, you get in free.)

Other supernatural programs on Atlanta stages include the satanic verses of The Shakespeare Tavern's Doctor Faustus, Frankenstein running amok at the Village Playhouse of Roswell and, for the faint of heart, the magical metamorphoses of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Georgia Shakespeare Festival. It's not hard to see the Halloween productions as the theater community's chance to let loose one last howl before the sweetness and light of their Christmas shows.

XPTerror plays through Oct. 29 at the Center for Puppetry Arts, 1404 Spring St., 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sat. and 5 p.m. Sun. Tickets are $7. Call 404-873-3391. Professor Guignol's Theatre of Blood plays Oct. 28-31 at eleven50, corner of Peachtree and 14th streets, 8 p.m. Sat.-Tues. Contact theater for ticket prices at 404-524-0302. Dracula plays Oct. 26-Nov. 5 at the 7 Stages Back Stage Theatre, 1105 Euclid Ave., 8 p.m. Thurs.-Tues. and 2 p.m. Sun., with midnight shows on Fri. and Sat. and shows at 7 and 11 p.m. Halloween night. $10-15. Call 770-591-3036. Devil's Night plays at midnight Oct. 27 at Dad's Garage Theatre Company, 280 Elizabeth St. $0-5. Call 404-523-3141.

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