I've never regretted having an aisle seat in a theater until Play Dead, and that means this comically frightening homage to the 20th century's "Midnight Spook Show" has accomplished its mission. Directed and co-written by Teller of Penn & Teller fame, Play Dead has its roots in the popular late-night fright shows that took over movie theaters across America for a mix of magic and macabre performance, often presented in pitch black darkness (affording the teenage audience ample opportunity to grope each other in the dark). This evening's host is the creepy and urbane Todd Robbins, a noted sword swallower and "authority on all things unusual." He begins the festivities by eating a light bulb, and things only get freakier from there.

Play Dead is structured around Robbins's tales real-life murderers, sideshow freaks, and sexy spiritualists. The first of these anecdotes concerns Albert Fish, an early-20th century serial killer from Brooklyn who kidnapped, murdered, and ate dozens of children. Pulling a cardboard box with Fish's name on it down from a shelf, Robbins coaxes a member of the audience up on stage and tries persuading her to put her hand inside the box. The tension as she's deciding whether to trust the devilishly-grinning Robbins is electrifying, and when she finally takes the leap of faith, she's rewarded with... Well, there's the problem with writing about Play Dead—to go into too much detail is to spoil the ghoulish surprises that await.

Here's what I can tell you: The illusions that Robbins and Teller are staging in this little Greenwich Village theater are marvelous, but even more impressive is the way Play Dead gets under your skin with the simplest of devices. These two know that some of the most frightening experiences are the most fundamental; complete darkness and the expectation that someone's standing in the aisle about to grab your shoulder are all you need. But Teller and Robbins go much further, weaving an enthralling spectacle out of history's horrors and unsettling mysteries. It's alternately hilarious and harrowing, and Robbins makes for a charming guide through this chilling darkness—you have no choice but to trust him, against your better judgment. And whether you're seated on the aisle or not makes no difference, you may very well find yourself on stage sticking your hand in a serial killer's box.