ZJU in North Hollywood would seem a total natural for grand guignol, that visceral style of over-the-top theatre from 19th century France. Madness! Murder! Mayhem! by Colin Mitchell is a trilogy of mini-plays based on that genre, directed by Jana Wimer. Inspired by, but not completely following the conventions. True grand guignol would be much more violent and gory. Instead, these three use more psychological horror--and to considerable effect! I felt as if I were watching a really good horror anthology--which in truth seems exactly what I was doing!
At the Break of Day" began the evening, with Ken MacFarlane (who pretty much stole it) and Roland DeLeon playing inmates in a French prison. DeLeon's character is due to be executed. His cellmate points out "Madame Guillotine" waiting for her new lover in the courtyard just visible from their meager window. It becomes a game of cruelty between them, the one relentlessly stirring up the other's imagination until at last one or more of them breaks.
Dale Sandlin's chambers for a chance to use hypnosis on a young woman who may have been witness to a terrible murder. Jonica Patella is the young woman, giving the kind of superb performance I've come to expect. All throughout this I expected some kind of horrible twist. Not only was I far from disappointed, I was genuinely surprised. The dynamics of interactions between these three strangers in particular worked well in establishing a reality, which made the final revelations all the more horribly real.
Orgy in the Lighthouse" Vincent Cusimano (recently Iago in Othello) is a lighthouse keeper in New England, visited by his friend Alex Walters (director of the recent Don Juan) one night, insisting on giving his friend a good time. In this case the 'good time' involves a pair of prostitutes played by Shayne Eastin and Jessica Madelaine. Once again, I was surprised again and again, by character no less than plot, and ultimately the horror of this little tale emerged from character rather than events (violent and grostesque as those events proved to be).
Altogether an effective and unsettling exploration of horror stories, one that left me very impressed. My mouth smiled. My ears pricked. My skin crawled. What more could one ask for, really?
Madness! Murder! Mayhem! will play Fridays at 8:30pm through July 31 at ZJU 4850 Lankershim Blvd, (just south of the NoHo sign) North Hollywood CA 91601. You can make reservations at (818) 202-4120 or by visiting zombiejoes.com