Monday, November 13, 2006

Shocktoberfest at the Hypnodrome

Underneath a freeway South of Market, behind a faux antique store, somewhere around 10th and Bryant Streets, there is a jewel box of a theatre called the Hypnodrome dedicated to the horror genre known as Grand Guignol (click here for their website).

A theatre group calling itself The Thrillpeddlers (click here for their website) has been staging an annual show at the theatre for the last three years called "Shocktoberfest" that plays for about a month around the Halloween season. For this year's edition my friend Bill Selby had adapted a 1916 French play from the original Grand Guignol theatre in Paris by Andre de Lorde called "Laboratory of Hallucinations." (All of the press photos in this entry, by the way, were shot by David Allen and you can find more of his fine work by clicking here.)

The evening began with an original curtain-raiser by Rob Keefe called "First Day," and it was genuinely funny, partly because the horror and gore was kept at bay.

This was not true of Mr. Keefe's next original short play, "The Taxidermist's Revenge" which involved throat-slitting, blood-draining and embalming infusions gone awry. Since there are less than 100 seats in the tiny theatre and the actors are often only a few feet away from the audience, the gory effects were visceral to say the least. In other words, you could smell the stage blood.

The piece was enlivened by the performance of Russell Blackwood, one of the Thrillpeddlers founders, in the role of the mad taxidermist who fancies himself an artist. Blackwood gave a wonderfully over-the-top performance that was reminiscent of Vincent Price at his most queeny and Dr. Phibes. The way he rolled his r's on "Rodin! Rodin! Rodin! That's all anybody wants to talk about!" was worth the price of admission.

The main course on the program, "Laboratory of Hallucinations," seemed to be a French adultery play on the island of Corsica involving a witch (above) and a mad scientist, but it turned out to be a tale of insane sexual repression.

It was genuinely disturbing.

The mix of professional and amateur actors were surprisingly good, delivering the old-fashioned dialogue without camping it up...

...and they were certainly game for involving themselves in truly horrific special effects.

The actress above even held her breath while being drowned in a basin of blood from her dead and tortured brother that also happened to have his brain floating about.

I was sitting in the front row of the theatre with my friend Kimo, who was enjoying himself thoroughly until they took a drill bit to somebody's head before taking out his brain. It reminded him of the horrifying stories trickling out of Iraq about scores of bodies found everyday in Baghdad with signs of being tortured by drill bits. On an interesting website devoted to the Grand Guignol theatre in Paris (click here), which opened in 1897 and closed in 1962, there was a quote that echoed the unease felt by Kimo and myself:

"In an interview conducted immediately after the Grand-Guignol closed in 1962, Charles Nonon, its last director, explained: "We could never compete with Buchenwald. Before the war, everyone believed that what happened on stage was purely imaginary; now we know that these things--and worse--are possible."

Still, if horror entertainment is your cup of tea, this particular group and theatre are doing some amazing work. Their next show will be around Valentine's Day where I assume ripped-out hearts will be on the menu. As the motto states on their website, "Sissies Stay Home!"


markleym said...

Golly, you could smell the stage blood. What did it smell like?

Kimo Crossman said...

Thanks for capturing my thoughts on this Mike.

I did enjoy myself until real life got in the way.