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At Gateway's haunted house, the slay's the thing

Gateway Playhouse presents a Haunted Playhouse this Halloween

Gateway Playhouse presents a Haunted Playhouse this Halloween season. Photo Credit: Handout

Gateway Playhouse, Long Island's leading producer of Broadway-scale musicals, has extended its season to fill the gap between the end of summer and the holiday season.

But you won't find any show titles on the theater's Bellport marquee.

"We've gone into the haunted-house business," says Paul Allan, the producer at Gateway and part of the third generation of his family to run the theater. "There are tons of haunted houses out there," Allan says, "but none with our theatrical experience."

Not to mention the setting. Scream Park, Allan says, violating a cardinal rule of marketing by mentioning the competition, "does a lot of automated stuff, cool gimmicks you find at haunted-house conventions. We're going for more of a raw scare."

The nominal story driving the Gateway production is based on a legend surrounding J.L.B. Mott, owner of the turn-of-the-last-century manor house before Allan's grandfather acquired the property. Some bad stuff went down in the barn - or so they say. Still standing, the barn is part of Gateway's red-frame playhouse / fun house. 

STAGE FRIGHT

Gateway isn't the only Long Island theater that's discovered Halloween. Only this time of year will you find these shows playing the same weekend: "Rocky Horror Picture Show" (two separate productions), "Almost the Bride of Dracula," "Dracula the Musical" and "The Living Dead Mafia."

But haunted houses are a bigger draw. From firehouses to amusement parks, the spook displays proliferate. Most of them are amateur. But several, like Gateway, hire actors. A cast of 34 is deployed along Gateway's labyrinthine route, animating 15 grotesque settings.

BOO!

Groups of six - 13 and older, Gateway recommends - enter the barn and are directed to sit in front of a black-and-white screen. The story of the Mott haunting begins to unfold. But it's interrupted by technical difficulties. Perhaps the wretch who directs you to the barn loft pulled the plug. Around each corner, you'll encounter a new nest of characters - all of whom have seen better days. At times, you feel as though you're being forced down a pitch-black cattle chute - pretty scary if you're bovine. (I found it amusing, but the tween girls in front of me supplied authentic screams.) There's a madwoman chained to a bed and a butcher with a cleaver intent on serving you up in Sweeney Todd meat pies. You escape outdoors, passing through a school bus loaded with kids who aren't going home anytime soon.

"What we're going for here is what a director of horror flicks goes for," Allan says. "If it's done well, you forget you're at the movies."

"Gateway's Haunted Playhouse of Horrors"

WHEN | WHERE: Daily, 7 to 11 p.m. (recommended for ages 13 and older), noon to 5 p.m. ("not so scary" for younger children), through Sunday at 215 South Country Rd., Bellport

INFO: $18, $23 for a fast pass that reserves a half-hour time slot, $5 for "not-so-scary" times; gatewayplayhouse.com, 631-286-1133

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