Blood Sweat & Fears III – The Red Velvet Curtain
This latest collaboration between Molotov Theatre Group and Shawn Northrip is designed with a particular type of audience in mind. You know who you are. You’ve just come back from the pleasures of “Jackass 3-D” and you’ve not quite exhausted your taste for the startling, the bizarre and the disgusting. Maybe I’ll crawl into the sewer, you think, and watch the alligators eat the rats. But the manhole covers are locked on, now, and your efforts are unavailing. Or maybe I’ll dress up in a clown costume and visit the City Morgue, you think. But security is too tight. Or maybe I’ll visit Congress! Alas, it is not in session. So you slip into a parking lot near the 1409 Playbill Café, ingratiate yourself into its back room, and get ready for the old grind-and-splatter that only Molotov brings.
Molotov is Washington’s foremost practitioner (well, frankly, only practitioner) of the Grand Guignol school of theater, and in the past it was sometimes hard to tell where their work was aimed. Too cheesy to be truly horrifying, there was always an undercurrent of self-mocking laughter which made people (well, me, anyway) wonder “what was that?” as they left the theater. But Northrip’s over-the-top adaptation of three short Grand Guignol pieces leaves no doubt: this show is being played for laughs. Big, raucous, dirty laughs.
We begin – and this is the only truly horrifying part – with a mime (Nate Newton) dressed as a clown. He pulls various objects out of his oversized pants; as a coup de gras, he takes out an object which Marcel Marceau never used in his act, and baptizes what I fervently hope is an audience plant. This is not, as it were, the climax of the opening movement. He thereafter conjures up an ancient wheezing harmonium and, in a pleasing bellow, proceeds to belt out a summary of the first of the three small pieces which make up The Red Velvet Curtain.
This is Private Room Number 6, in which a genially despicable Generalissimo (Alex Zavistovich) salivates over the prospect of getting his meathooks, and other body parts, into the luscious young Lea (Donnis Collins), who is being brought to his room for a horizontal mambo. In Northrip’s adaptation of Andre de Lorde’s and Pierre Chain’s 1907 script, the General is an enthusiastic Iraq-war practitioner of torture who covers up his crimes by making his men take the fall. (How he does this is left, um, to the imagination.) Lea, who first seems to be a coquettish admirer, is in fact something else entirely. Zavistovich has gotten the smiling villain thing down pat, and Collins works beautifully with him, both as a seeming victim and deadly foe. Chris Zito appears as a factotum who adds a little fillip of shock and awe to the playlet’s denouement.
The Iraq War also plays a role in The Person Unknown, in which Daisy (Anna Brungardt) is a musician who has kickstarted her career by traveling around the country with Army recruiters. If you sign up for the Army after one of her concerts, Daisy will give you a smooch, and make you a promise. Dick Hobbes (James T. Majewski), who has been horribly disfigured in the war, has come back to collect on the promise. Brungardt and Majewski are both good in Northrip’s adaptation of H.F. Maltby’s short play (as are Collins and Zito in secondary roles), but the real star is the uncredited makeup artist (Zavistovich is designated as the “Goremeister” in the program), who makes “the horrors of war”, as played out on Mr. Hobbes’ face, more than a cliché.
These two plays are sandwiched around I Want to Go Home, an undercooked and underrehearsed sex farce adapted by Northrip from another Maltby short play. In it, sexy Christina (Collins) induces her repressed friend Lucy (Brungardt) to dress and act seductively in order to provoke Lucy’s husband Roger (Zito) to stay home, rather than going out with his friends to drink and gamble. “Seductively,” in this case apparently means wearing a worn slip and using makeup in order to resemble a raccoon. Whatever, it works, and Roger – who has stripped to his skivvies in order to pose in front of the mirror (played by the audience) responds with heartwarming enthusiasm. Soon they are playing a series of incomprehensible, and painful-looking, sex games until the lights go down. They could have gone down earlier, to good effect.
Mr. Newton’s nasty clown reappears between playlets, interspersing his artistry on the harmonium with vignettes illustrating the infinite varieties of sexual experience. Most notably, the clown, um, empathizes with two offstage sexual partners who enhance their amorous experiences by making goat noises.
This will all be great fun if you are a certain type of person looking for a certain type of experience, although perhaps not so much so if you meant to see Circle Mirror Transformation next door at Studio and wandered in here by mistake. One of the most delightful aspects of the enterprise is to see the work of Collins, who got her B.A. in Theatre Performance from Shaw University in North Carolina two years ago and moved here, instead of New York. Lucky us!
Housekeeping Notes: As I’ve mentioned before, in days of old I used to act with Zavistovich. Also, Brungardt reviewed Fringe shows for DC Theatre Scene in 2009 and 2010. None of this has affected the objectivity of this review.
Blood Sweat and Fears III: The Red Velvet Curtain
Adapted by Shawn Northrip from:
Private Room Number 6
By Andre de Lorde and Pierre Chain
I Want to Go Home
By H.F. Maltby
The Person Unknown
By H.F. Maltby
Directed by Lucas Maloney, except for Private Room Number 6, which is directed by Kevin Finkelstein
Harmonium music and lyrics by Shawn Northrip
Produced by Molotov Theatre Group
Reviewed by Tim Treanor
BLOOD SWEAT AND FEARS III