Directed by Jeremy Aluma and written by David Bridel, this is a wry and deceptive horror comedy that sucks you in almost as soon as it starts. Think of a streamlined version of Marat Sade performed on Nitrous Oxide, and you get a rough idea of what is unleashed upon you as the fourth wall crumbles. Based loosely on actual experiments by French Neurologist Guillaume-Benjamin-Amand Duchenne (de Boulogne) in the 1800’s ( Thaddeus Shaffer).
The Dr. proceeds with a public demonstration of how electricity stimulates genuine feeling depending on where the connective rods are applied. He seems benign if not a tad condescending. I’d describe his portrayal as a mash-up of Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove and Gene Wilder’s turn as Dr. Fronk-en-steen. Since this type of venue attracts thespians and critics, volunteers from the audience are asked questions about themselves in regards to acting until a few are invited to stay on stage and help in the experiment. This part of the play incorporates some improv from the physician, who, in a snide but still endearing fashion, toys with them for about fifteen minutes.
The last man standing represents the modern stance of classic method acting and has to stand the test of matching wits and emotions with three of the Dr.’s test subjects — control Dr. will let them. Thus starts the funniest and most normal portion of the theatrics, but even that morphs into something else as a steampunk variant of electro-shock stimulates and elicits feelings of surprise, anger, joy, etc.
To reveal anything else would be criminal, as we begin to wonder if we are voyeurs, participants or are being unwittingly, and perhaps not too passively, forced to feel certain things as well. The first 60 minutes are screamingly funny before we veer sharply left and into a dark part of the mind’s back roads.
The pacing is dead on point and the costumes and props are nicely done. Set designer Fred Kinney makes good use of the deep and wide chasms of the stage that consist of open spaces and partial to full walls hanging from the ceiling. This booby trapped pastry comes in advantageously at the start of the L.A. Fringe festival and pairs nicely with the devilry and delights for the next few weeks.
“Lunatics and Actors” runs on Fridays and Saturdays through May 28 and you would be a crazy person to miss this ninety minute roller coaster/fun house in the flesh. Be forewarned that if someone rings a bell in the following few days you might start salivating. Produced by Four Clowns repertory theater and Clown school in Association with the Shakespeare Center Of Los Angeles.