Friday, October 11, 2013

Shocktoberfest 14: Jack The Ripper Meets Salome

The Thrillpeddlers, led by artistic director Russell Blackwood above, are presenting their 14th annual autumn theatrical spookshow at their Hypnodrome Theater on 10th Street. This year's theme, commemorating the 125th anniversary of the Jack the Ripper murders in London, wanders all over the Victorian map, with a musical interpretation of Oscar Wilde's Salome set in a male brothel being the evening's highlight.

The company has long specialized in the violent, grotesque and horrifying as exemplified by the one-acts produced for decades at Le Theatre du Grand Guignol in Paris. In recent years, they have also been performing reconstructions of Cockettes productions from the late 1960s in San Francisco whose shock consists more in their gender bending, outre sexuality, and gleefully satiric humor. I tend to be more of a fan of the latter than the former, but to each their own, and the evening's curtain raiser had elements of both. A Visit to Mrs. Birch & The Young Ladies of the Academy is the first scene from an 1888 English "spanking play" that managed to be horrifying, sexy and funny simultaneously. This was followed by a new English adaptation of Andre de Lorde and Pierre Chaine's 1934 Grand Guignol thriller about Jack The Ripper. (George Epsilanty and Eric O'Kelly above are the ethically compromised doctors who are forced to sign off on an unofficial prison execution.)

The play was one of thousands of attempts over the decades to unmask the identity of the real Jack the Ripper, and this version's conclusion makes as much sense as any of the others. The acting styles ranged from broad to restrained, and the murderous finale was perfectly satisfying. (Kai Brothers above left is the British aristocrat ordering Eric O'Kelly to sign the affidavit for the Royal Family, or else.)

Scrumbly Koldewyn wrote the music and lyrics for Salome, which was "inspired by the play by Oscar Wilde," and it is one of his nimblest, funniest efforts. After intermission, the audience finds itself being entertained and groped by Victorian London rent boys who are being groped themselves by a handful of clients. (From left to right above, Kai Brothers as John the Baptist, Drew Staffen as Guard #2, Noah Haydon as Salome, John Flaw as Herod, Steve Bolinger as the Piano Accompanist, and TJ Buswell as Guard #1).

Then it's time to offer a sexy musical entertainment for the whoremongers, led by Hunky Guards #1 and #2, played by TJ Buswell (above) and Drew Staffen. This turns out to be an hilarious 15-minute adaptation of Wilde's Salome, with many knowing nods to composer Richard Strauss.

Noah Haydon not only directed and choreographed the piece, but plays Salome with singing and dancing verve, causing an attack of onstage tumescence after her Dance of the Seven Veils.

She deserves John the Baptist's head on a platter after all that writhing, and though I decided long ago that Strauss's Salome opera is not my cup of tea, I could watch Scrumbly Koldewyn's version repeatedly. Bravo to all concerned.

The final play of the evening is a world premiere by Rob Keefe about a famous San Francisco double murder in 1895 at the Emanuel Baptist Church. Entitled The Wrong Ripper; or, Headline Noose; or, Pageant for The Handsome Accused, the one-act is almost as stylistically confused as its name. Some of it is straight horror, other sections are a hectoring condemnation of the sensationalist press that wants to keep the public frightened at all times, and finally there are sections where a Greek chorus of chorines (Noah Haydon, Tina Sogliuzzo and Bruna Palmeiro above) comment on the proceedings while swooning over the handsome accused killer. The prostitute chorus line sequences are the most successful, with music once again by the masterful Scrumbly Koldewyn. They are so good it makes one wish the entire play had been a satirical musical.

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