- A Trilogy of Grand Guignol plays: The Lighthouse Keepers, by Paul Autier and Paul Cloquemin, Tics, by Rene Berton, and The Final Kiss, by Maurice Level
- All translated by Richard Hand
- Directed by Lucas Maloney
- Produced by the Molotov Theatre Group at the Playbill Café
- Reviewed by Tim Treanor
So where do you go if you want to see the depravity of man laid out in the raw, with bloody, homicidal doings supplemented by tawdry sexual escapades? Well, there’s the U. S. Congress, of course. But if you wanted to see it done in theatrical form, with fewer windy speeches, you might be inclined to wander down to the Playbill Café and see Washington’s newest professional troupe, the Molotov Theatre Group, stage some plays straight from the Grand Guignol.
Grand Guignol – the Parisian blood-and-sex theater, at one time (but no longer) performed with puppets – seems a counterintuitive choice in a town as stuffy and full of itself as Washington is, but once you accept the premises it can be a good time. It is not great art, or art at all. It is the theatrical equivalent of grade-B horror movies…the kind you watched at low volume when you were a kid and thought your parents were asleep.
Perhaps in recognition, Molotov Theatre engages Anne Nottage as Belladonna, a sort of Elvira-Mistress-of-the-Dark figure who connects the three stories with affably cheesy dialogue delivered in a very lovely bustier and fishnet stockings. Regrettably, the company itself is still finding its sea legs, and at this point does not deliver the gooey deliciousness typical of Grand Guignol, or even of the variety promised by Elvira.
Of the three Molotov Theatre offerings, the best is clearly Tics (subtitled Doing the Deed), a broad sex farce about misdeeds in an unnamed French town in which ViagraTM must have seeped into the drinking supply. Two couples – one played by Robert Rector and Tara Garwood and the other by William Aitken and Leslie Sarah Cohen – go after each other with carnivorous abandon, and a massive, spectacularly ugly maid named Venus (played by Eric Humphries, last seen as a fierce midfielder and a large dog in Keegan’s Alone It Stands) is apparently the town’s resident “it” girl. Unfortunately, all of the male characters are afflicted with pronounced tics which come over them after the act of love. Accordingly, their amorous subterfuges are all laid before us, with good comic effect.
The other two playlets are not as successful. The Lighthouse Keepers, a two-actor play in which Aitken and Rector play father and son, is simply not substantial enough to be satisfying. It is loaded down with high-context dialogue, in which the characters say things which should be obvious to each other in order to explain to the audience how isolated the lighthouse is from the village, how high up in the air it is, and so on. Old pro Aitken handles this difficult stuff well enough, but Rector has trouble making it believable. Once the crisis hits, things move along briskly but the resolution – well, there is no resolution. It just ends.
The closing piece, The Final Kiss, moves along interminably – Bland Guignol, rather than Grand Guignol. A spurned woman (Cohen) has thrown sulfuric acid in the face of her unfaithful lover (Bryant Sullivan), reducing him to a hideous, opium-smoking recluse, locked up in a halfway house. His ruined face is wrapped in bandages – more to protect those who might look at him, it seems, than for any curative effect they might have on the sufferer. His attacker comes to visit him, to beg his forgiveness and to express her gratitude for his intervention in her trial, which resulted in a short sentence. And then they gas on, the criminal and her victim, at a noxiously limp pace. He suffers great pain. She is so sorry. He will have a lifetime of loneliness. She is really, really, sorry. And then, finally, the climactic moment, when he casts off his wrappings and shows his hideous face to the world, and to us. Regrettably, lighting designer Maloney, who is also responsible for the pieces’ somnambulant direction, has the lights so low that we don’t get a good look at how disgusting the victim really appears until afterward, at the curtain call. (He really is awful to look at. The program credits Alex Zavistovich and Jen Tonon for Special Effects and Makeup.)
Let’s talk about the good stuff. Cohen is fabulous in Tics as a lisping seductress. She reminds me of Maia DeSanti’s brilliant turn in Richard Greenburg’s Bal Masque at Theater J a few years ago. Colby Codding is immensely amusing both as a half-witted manservant in Tics and as the world’s most insensitive physician (a very competitive title) in The Final Kiss. Casey Kaleba’s fight choreography is quite credible, especially in The Lighthouse Keepers. And the very presence of Humphries in the role of Village Sex Object is uproariously funny.
While this evening of blood and sex is not entirely successful, Molotov Theatre has enough elements to one day put together a consistently guilty pleasure, and I hope we give them a chance to do so.
— By way of full disclosure, I must tell you that I’ve acted with and directed Zavistovich, Molotov’s Managing Director and who is responsible for the special effects and makeup. I do not believe this has affected the objectivity of my review, however.
- Running Time: 1:20 (no intermission).
- When: Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8.00 p.m. and Saturdays at 11.00 p.m., through Feb 2.
- Where: 1409 Playbill Café, at 1409 14th St. NW.
- Tickets: $10 on Wednesdays, $15 otherwise. All tickets at the door.
- Information: Visit the website.