Sunday, May 19, 2013

How Do You Feel?

I attended a screening of Star Trek: Into Darkness last night that was followed by a Q&A with composer Michael Giacchino and producer Bryan Burk. During the Q&A, Giacchino spoke of his process, saying that what he does is translate his emotional responses to whatever movie or TV show he's composing for into the music. This got me to thinking.

Do we serve as emotional ambassadors to our audiences? Is it our job to have an emotional response to a story, and translate that response into a physical form: as music, performance, direction, design, even the writing of the story? Are we in fact being paid, not just to tell a story, but to have an emotional response to the story we tell?

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Kill Me

The Visceral Company presents the Los Angeles premiere of a play by Scott T. Barsotti.

review by Andrew Moore
Cam (Natasha Charles Parker), center, surrounded by (clockwise from left), her sister Wendy (Angela Stern); the four Miseries: Paranoia (Yanna Fabian), Despair (Alexander Price), Dread (Karen Nicole), and Angst (Lamont Webb); and her lover Grace (Jonica Patella), in a scene from Kill Me, now playing at the Lex Theatre through June 2.

Some works of art disturb you, dominate your thoughts, haunt you. Kill Me has the potential to dig its hooks into an audience's psyche, and The Visceral Company's production of this difficult piece very nearly achieves this end. The flaws in the production are significant but not fatal. Kill Me is an intense, suspenseful evening of theater that fans of psychological horror should seek out.

The play opens with a great bit of John McCormick's sound design over blackout, followed by the lyrical pyrotechnics of overlapping dialogue. The audience is injected into the world of the play with immediacy and intensity. Cam (an earnest and committed Natasha Charles Parker) emerges from a life--and sanity--altering experience. Her estranged sister Wendy (Angela Stern) and lover Grace (Jonica Patella) struggle to understand her and help her heal. Cam is haunted by the Miseries, four actors who embody Paranoia, Dread, Despair, and Angst.

Kill Me is a gripping glimpse into schizophrenia; into the horror of living with someone who is so convinced by the reality of her delusions, her loved ones begin to believe as well. It is about the potential contagion of mental illness, and the frightening possibility that the ravings of a lunatic may be prophetic and true. Playwright Scott T. Barsotti has painted a compelling picture. There are moments so ... well, moments so visceral, they are almost impossible to process on a logical level.

The problem is there is no build to these moments. Patella in particular is cranked up pretty high on the intensity scale from the beginning, with nowhere really to go. Even at Grace's weakest, most vulnerable moments she continues with full intensity. Ultimately, it cheats the depth her final moment onstage should have. That's unfortunate, because her journey is the most interesting of the three main characters. Director Dan Spurgeon needs to find the peaks and valleys and exploit them with his actors. Otherwise, it's just an onslaught.

There are other opportunities here that remain unexploited. Given the nature of the dialogue, the fluidity of the scenes, and the dreamlike quality of the show overall it is dismaying that Spurgeon opted for rather static blocking throughout. The choices Spurgeon made lead to awkward transitions at times. For instance, the Miseries are forced to retreat in full view of the audience after particularly feverish interaction with an actor. Slinking backwards to the wings. There is no proper ebb to the flow.

Regarding the Miseries, designers Erica D. Schwartz (costumes) and Jana Wimer (makeup) made very bold and specific choices in their depiction of the Miseries, which is a good thing. However the Miseries feel out of sync with this piece, as if they were characters from another play who happened in to this one. They are just distracting enough at times to work against the mood that is being created.

Despite the problems I found with the production, I greatly enjoyed it. The commitment of the cast, the quality of the production values, and the script itself are all wonderful, and perhaps you will leave it as I did, pondering the themes at play and wondering just how crazy Cam actually was.  This company is fully committed to its mission statement by bringing suspenseful and frightening works to the Los Angeles theatre scene, and they definitely succeed with that aim.

Kill Me is at The Lex Theatre Friday and Saturday evenings at 8pm, and Sundays at 3pm through June 2nd. Tickets are $20 and may be purchased through The Lex Theatre is located at 6760 Lexington Ave. in Hollywood California, just off Highland. Parking can be a challenge, so get there a little early and pay attention to the signs.

This play contains intense and frightening imagery, including graphic makeup effects. Leave the kids at home.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Hemophelia's House of Horrors

Presented by The Visceral Company

review by Andrew Moore

Lara Fisher is Hemophelia, the ghoul of cool and hostess of Hemophelia's House of Horrors, an all-new horror-themed comedy/variety show now playing at the Lex Theatre through June 8.
The Visceral Company presents a frightfully fun excursion into laugh-out-loud funny horror; an eclectic collection of sketches that range from macabre jokes to horror movie satire, with occasional artistic and technical flourishes that elevate this from being a mere sketch comedy show to something truly worth seeing.

Lara Fisher is Hemophelia, our host, our sexy Crypt Keeper-ette. She fills the space between the sketches with songs (Matt DeNoto has composed some truly funny stuff here) and goriously bad puns, but most importantly keeps the show moving along. Her name is in the title, but Hemophelia (like all good emcees) knows the show isn't just about her. We get just enough of her dark wackiness that we want more.

Hemophelia's House of Horrors, an all-new horror-themed comedy/variety show now playing at the Lex Theatre through June 8, features (top center) Lara Fisher as Hemophelia, the ghoul of cool, and a comedy troupe of (clockwise from bottom) Brian Prisco, Cloie Wyatt Taylor, Cynthia Zitter, Torrey Halverson, Matt DeNoto, Samm Hill, and Casey Christensen.
Three sketches in particular stand out. In "Organ Grinder," Samm Hill and Matt DeNoto play out the kind of high-concept terror I associate with Tales from the Crypt, Shock SuspenStories, and other EC horror comics. It has its funny moments, but the sketch is a statement about addiction and loss served up with the heavy-handed, gorily metaphoric moralizing EC Comics is known for. Hill and DeNoto give the right amount of fully-committed scenery chewing, and the piece serves as a nice break from more conventional sketch comedy fare, such as the parody of the Friday the 13th movies that precedes it.

"Habeus Corpus," created and directed by Jana Wimer, is a trippy piece of puppetry magic. A disembodied head and hands dig through a trash can, pulling out bits and pieces of garbage to assemble a body. Spooky and fun with a startling ending. Like "Organ Grinder," it's not the sort of fare you would expect in a sketch show, but the otherworldly eeriness contributes to the overall vibe of the night.

"Karmic Retribution" exemplifies what this troupe is capable of with straight up sketch comedy. A genre-twisting take on the "axe-wielding maniac" trope, three survivors lock themselves in a cabin and let their true feelings be known about a fourth friend who was slaughtered offstage. Casey Christensen, Cloie Wyatt Taylor, and Cynthia Zitter play up the imperiled campers, giving a more dimensional portrayal of the victim archetypes from conventional horror. The piece builds tension through its staging, releasing bits of that tension through humor until the grim and hilarious end. It is delightful.

This show is a lot of fun, and I recommend braving the horrible parking to take it in. (Parking is a nightmare. Get there a little early, expect to do laps, and pay attention to the signs before committing to a spot. You may have to park a few blocks away from the venue.)

Hemophelia's House of Horrors opens its doors Fridays and Saturdays at 10:30 pm through June 8th (there are no performances on May 17th or 18th) and may also be visited during Hollywood Fringe Festival on Tuesday, June 11th at 8pm and Thursday, June 13th at 10:30pm. The Visceral Company is in residence at The Lex Theatre, 6760 Lexington Avenue in Hollywood. Nearest cross street is Highland.

Tickets are $15 via Brown Paper Tickets, but you may use the code "HEMO" at check-out for a $5 discount. More information may be found on The Visceral Company website.