Starting in turn-of-the-century Paris, the Theatre of the Grand Guignol gleefully celebrated carnage and blood in all their glories. These plays are no-holds-barred romps that are the basis of the "splatter films" of today. For Halloween, "Nowhere - a company of actors" and The Red Poppy Theatre Company brought three Grand Guignol plays to us under the title of The Neglected Laboratory.
The midnight show opened on the sixth floor of The Stella Adler Conservatory, where the audience was greeted by actor Scott Corr, who seemed born to play Grand Guignol. He gave a speech on the fascination of horror and how we can't stop watching it. Mr. Corr was simply menacing without pushing the wrong notes. The plays were performed in three separate rooms. The first room he led the audience into was The System of Dr. Goudron and Professor Plume, by André de Lorde, which is based on the Edgar Allen Poe short story. It soon became obvious as the play started that director Chris Mack was more bent on style than on conducting a story. The actors gestured as if they were in a Bugs Bunny cartoon and screamed so loudly that the story became incoherent and lost interest quickly.
It took about half of The Garden of Tortures to come back to life. Both excellently acted and directed by Hillary Spector, the play, by Sean Burke, based on the book by Octave Mirbeau, is like From Here to Eternity meets Clive Barker. The story basically is about a sadistic prostitute called Claire (Janine L. Miskulin) who has everyone she comes into contact either murdered violently or sent to the Garden of Tortures. Watching Ms. Miskulin screaming in excruciating pain in the climax of the play, as most viewers found it impossible to get to the next room, was probably the closest we got to the desired effect of the evening.
The third and final room and play, Lesson at La Salpretière, by André de Lorde, is pure Halloween fun. Set in a mental institution, the play was performed in the round - around an operating table where it became apparent that the doctors and nurses were more crazy than the patients. An innocent victim is brought in because of seizures and wakes from her operation with her brain exposed. Again, big applause to the entire cast and to director Heather de Michelle, who directed with panache.
The costumes by Greco were excellent and campy, the lights and set by Mattheu Placek were fine, and the original music by Patricia Leonard added much to the evening's ghoulish climate.
(Others in the cast were: Nate Mooney, Yuri Lowenthal, John Hensley, Enzo Gentile, Amina Henry, Polly Morrow, Padraig Nash, Chris Sheller, Moss Roberts, Kathy Hendrickson, Abby Royal, Sarah Davie, John Socas, Tracey Larson, Dana Jacks, Natalie Gold, Jeff Bivens, and Robb Hillman.)
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Copyright 1999 Andrès J. Wrath