By Matthew Barton, Edmund Lingan and Drew Wheeler
Directed by Matthew Barton
The Alamo Players
Atlantic Studio Theatre
453 West 16th Street (591-2840)
Equity Showcase (closes Oct. 31)
Review by Andrès J. Wrath
Grand Guignol, with all its macabre hysteria, seems to be making a stab at notoriety this Halloween season. The Alamo Players' presentation Occupational Hazards and Dangerous Diversions purported to be in the style of the French phenomenon. The glories of Grand Guignol are usually accented with seemingly real violence and torture, and the writing, for all its cheap theatricality, is usually made charming by its wit and pretentious, over-the-top moral stance. The bad guy is usually punished horribly by the evening's end. As in most stylized plays, when it is played seriously within the confines of its conventions it is successful, but when it becomes nothing more than a series of hijinks it dangerously borders on self-indulgence.
Occupational Hazards and Dangerous Diversions is a series of scenes that range from a man selling his soul to the devil to be funny, stolen jewelry, a rage-a-holic with a gun, a meat-obsessed boss, a hooker who aspires to be rich and classy, and a catatonic husband. The loosely linked scenes seemed more like Saturday Night Live than actual full-bodied scenarios. The evening could have been more effective if we followed fewer characters and the ones we did follow were more developed.
The evening was bookended with the stolen jewelry at a high society party where some of the characters from the other scenes end up. Effective was the Emcee (Brad Rusell), who warns us about living dangerously with greed, the scene with Lisa (Eileen Chang), who makes her catatonic husband Frederick (Alvin Lotspeich) watch as she is tied to a chair by Edgar (Alex Weider), and Larry, the angry rage-a-holic with a gun (Jim Cherry), but many of the other scenarios got tiresome after awhile. The biggest disappointment was the violence, which seemed more like Quentin Tarantino than full-out Grand Guignol. The beauty of the genre is that it should have the effect of watching a car wreck - we should be left mesmerized in some primal way. The hand that was stabbed looked rubbery, and the one true scene of horror, when a bullet is removed from the gut of a man, was turned into a gag that went on too long.
Matthew Barton's directing was uneven: he did get his actors to perform with commitment and energy, but everything about the production seemed too aware of the joke. Even when the usual horror convention of thunder and lightning was introduced, an actor backstage stuck his head out from behind a curtain and stated it was he who tripped, bumping the file cabinet and so making it rattle.
The costume design, by Marguerite McKellan, and lighting
design, by Rich Gershberg, were acceptable.
Others in the cast included: Hanna Hayes (who was wonderful
and underused), Sam Mercer, Jo Haney, Joseph
Langham, Christy Nacinovich, Drew Wheeler, Jonathan
Schancupp, and Bill Short.
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Copyright 1999 Andrès J. Wrath