Portland theater audiences know Dustin Tucker as the funny guy. He’s good at making people laugh. For years, his version of “The Santaland Diaries” was the must-see holiday show in Portland, and his performances in the one-man comedies “Buyer & Cellar” and “Fully Committed” cemented his reputation as an actor with a sharp wit.
Though well-deserved, that reputation will undergo a bit of reevaluation when Tucker mounts “The Haunting Hour,” a collection of edgy thrillers and horror stories by Maine writers that Tucker has adapted for the stage. He serves as producer and director for the project, and does not appear on stage.
“Horror and scary stuff in general has always been my genre, my favorite thing, which is weird, because it’s not at all what I do or what I am known for,” he said. “The challenge is, horror or scary or psychological thrillers are great in the movies, but hard to do well on stage. There are a few out there that can make an audience jump. ‘The Woman in Black’ is one, and ‘Misery’ is another. But it’s rare. I wanted to see if I could create something for the Halloween season that would give audiences a fun jolt.”
“The Haunting Hour” opens Wednesday, Oct. 25, and runs through Nov. 4 as part of the Portland Stage Studio Series. The piece includes six individual stories, ranging from about five minutes to 20 minutes or so. In total, “The Haunting Hour” will run about 85 minutes.
Among the writers whose words Tucker adapted for “The Haunting Hour” are Tess Gerritsen, John Cariani, Callie Kimball, Chris Holm and Ike Hamill. For contractual reasons, Tucker can’t name the sixth author.
Four actors will perform: Sally Wood, Moira Driscoll, Chris Davis and Sean Ramey.
“Each one feels different in style, with a different author and different energy,” he said.
Cariani, a Tony Award-nominated actor and writer of “Almost, Maine,” contributed a piece called “The Wish” about a genie and his reticent owner, who find they have more in common than they realized. Gerritsen’s story is called “Gross Anatomy,” a short story she wrote for the Los Angeles Times in 1997 about a man who is so afraid of doctors that he allows a huge, festering blob grow bigger and bigger and control his life.
Ike Hamill’s piece, “TSA,” is about four airport security employees who get a surprise when a ghost bag appears in their imaging machine. “The Well” by Holm is about a resourceful girl named Emily who falls in a well and survives by eating bugs and luring prey. Kimball’s piece, “The Right One,” finds a widow named Sarah driving through a raging snowstorm with her husband’s ashes to a rustic cabin in northern Maine, only to face a new and unexpected horror once inside.
“I have tried as best I could to leave the words as written, and it was actually pretty easy because the authors have such great dialogues already written into the stories,” Tucker said. “I think it will be thrilling. I actually think it will get our heart pumping a little bit, like a roller coaster. The mood will change throughout the piece, but it’s all one big thrill ride.”
Based on rehearsals, Tucker feels confident “The Haunting Hour” will become an ongoing late-October tradition in Portland’s theater calendar. “I think it’s really going to be big, and once that first audience sees the show and the word starts to get out, I think this could be a real awesome seasonal, Halloween draw in the future,” he said.
WHEN: 7 p.m. Oct. 25-29 and Oct. 31 to Nov. 4
WHERE: Portland Stage Studio Theatre, 25A Forest Ave.
TICKETS & INFO: $18; portlandstage.org or 774-0465