Hand me down my walking cane I’m going to see a play. Add a can of Red Bull and a warm parka and you’ll be equipped to see L.A. County’s best Halloween themed plays, where you are the co-stars and the world is a stage quite literally.
I had never been to Wicked Lit, a group helmed by Unbound Productions, before, but I had heard it was pretty diverting and somewhat akin to Shakespeare in the park. A morsel of that is correct in that the three playlets and their framework story are rather verbose, like the best of “The Bard” and the performances get broad and purple at points but it transcends that in being very clever and using its terrain so delicately and observantly that at times you feel as if lost in some sort of psychic realm where time flies by effortlessly.
Indeed, by the time it’s all over you’ve covered a lot of ground in a three and a half hours’ time and could still stand for one more short tease or gasp. Using the Poe tale “The Masque Of The Red Death Experience” as a springboard and wrap-around story like a horror anthology, movie Directors Douglas R. Clayton Paul Millet and Jeff G. Rack firmly grab you by the wrist and lead you down the dimly lit corridors of the Mountain View Mausoleum and Cemetery to bear witness to crimes of mayhem and beasts from another dimension in vivid versions of “The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving, “The Lurking Fear” by H.P. Lovecraft. and “The New Catacomb” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Apart from the dark and elegant surroundings that have been transformed into a funerary fun park using little more than costumes, minimal effects lighting and acutely timed sound effects triggered by unseen technicians using iPads, the plays are strengthened by their varied tones — especially in the prose.
After a brief warm up in the courtyard which acts as Prince Prosperos haven from the Red Death and the reason we are listening to ghostly tales, the audience is broken open into three separate groups and each group will see one of the three plays at concurrent times until everyone meets back at the courtyard for the finale of the Poe story.
My group started out with a rather faithful version of The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow adapted by writer Jonathon Josephson and Director Jeff G. Rack. Since this story is as old as the Cheetohs at the 99 Cent Stores, the authors keep it moving from location to location with a wry smile and a rotating narration that flits from character to character save for the ill fated sap named Ichabod. This play ends with a nice and unexpected effect in the graveyard when we all get to greet the headless horseman.
Although the next play I saw, H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Lurking Fear” is set in the Catskill Mountains sometime in the thirties, it smacks of 80’s horror romps and set pieces that Quentin Tarantino might do. Adapted by Jonathon Rack and Josephson, Paul Millet directs this with plenty of slam and bang and a whole lot of f*ck yous. A young reporter with a secret comes to town where cultists have been praying to pagan gods and albino humanoid beasts tunnel under the earth and eat the kin folk and live stock. There is one effect involving an animal part that I won’t divulge but it knocked everyone’s socks off. Bloody mission accomplished.
The last complete play of the evening in my group was Doyle’s “The New Catacomb”. This was unfamiliar to most of us but it becomes clear that it’s a homage to the Cask Of Amantillado but with a major twist and a good jump scare at the climax. Director Douglas R. Clayton not only makes us witness to this two character game of cat and mouse but puts us in one of the characters shoes where we have to walk carefully through the coal black halls of the interior mausoleum substituting for an old catacomb by holding onto a tight string for our direction forward. This turned out to be a much better journey than first expected.
The framing story of the Red Death was the weakest part of the evening as most the the meat was taken out from Poe’s original text so we could explore the other parts of the grounds. “The Masque of the Red Death Experience” was somewhat of a misnomer I feel as the other plays put you in the experience far more than this did. It’s basically a pre show waiting for stragglers to arrive and it attempts to let actors and audience intermingle but only really succeeds when Bianca Gisselle, accompanied by cello, warbles her way into three Edgar Allan Poe poems set to music. The Raven, The Bells and Annabelle Lee take on a beautiful and haunting new perception and it’s most remarkable. I found this to be a very worthwhile Halloween buffet for the bookish set and gothic horror nerds but everyone there seemed to get a spooky kick out of it, as did I.