Eight years ago, the Molotov Theatre Group made its debut with Blood, Sweat and Fears, a trilogy of Grand Guignol plays, at the late, lamented Playbill Cafe. I reviewed it then. (Wait! Eight years? How come I’m not any older?) It was amusing, but raw; some of the acting wasn’t quite up to the demands of the material; and it wasn’t clear whether Molotov meant to be scary or funny. I ended my review by expressing the hope that we give Molotov a chance to grow.
We have. And now Molotov has decided to give Blood, Sweat and Fears another shot, backed by the company’s eight years of production experience. What we get is a pleasingly eccentric piece in which three stories of horror play against the backdrop of a 1920s dress-up party, complete with a soft-voiced chanteuse (Jen Bevan) singing love songs and a whip-wielding dominatrix (Mallory Shear) for whom the line between love and death seems disconcertingly blurred.
Molotov breathes new life into the two plays I thought hackneyed and ill-performed eight years ago. In Paul Autier’s and Paul Cloquemin’s The Lighthouse Keepers, a father (Zach Brewster-Geisz) and son (Brian Kraemer) are at the outset of a thirty-day stretch as operators of a remote lighthouse off the coast of Brittany. They are completely cut off from the rest of the world, separated from the shorelines by miles of sea. This is long ago, and there is no telephone, no radio — nothing but the two men, the lighthouse, the sea and the boats that need their guidance.
It begins to storm. Birds attack the lighthouse. One of the men develops a fatal — and highly contagious — disease.
Eight years I complained that this play was full of dialogue which no one would say in real life, and which was included in a clumsy attempt to explain everything to the audience. That dialogue is still in the play, but Brewster-Geisz and Kraemer deftly downplay it to bring our attention to the story’s real excitement and expense. Eight years ago the play just ended, but this time around it dips into melancholy in a way both frightening and moving. I salute the actors and director Elliott Kashner for finding the heart of this play and showing it to us.
This year’s version of Maurice Level’s The Final Kiss is much better than the one I saw eight years ago, too. This is the story of a man (David Dieudonne) whose face has been hideously scarred by an acid attack carried out by his jealous fiancée (Fabiolla Da Silva). After being examined by a nurse who struggles with her revulsion (Jennifer Restak) and a doctor (Brewster-Geisz) with the worst bedside manner in human history (and that’s saying something, brothers and sisters), he is visited by his attacker, whom he has saved from a long prison term by dint of his forgiving intervention. And then things start to happen.
Eight years ago I said that the dialogue was gassy and tedious. Well, maybe they’ve cut some of it. Or maybe the acting is so good that I didn’t notice the bad dialogue. Or maybe I’ve just grown soft in my old age. In any event, director Alex Zavistovich and the cast have created something punchy and exciting here.
Incidentally, both The Lighthouse Keepers and The Final Kiss feature excellent fights, which seem realistic even in the tiny confines of the DC Arts Center. Shear is the fight coordinator.
Ironically, the one play I didn’t like was one I thought was terrific in 2008 — Rene Berton’s Tics, in which two couples prone to adultery (Alex Miletich IV, Annette Mooney Wasno, Gray West and Katie Culligan) are betrayed because the menfolk have characteristic tics (a leg twitch and a stutter, respectively) for ten minutes after the act of amour. The play also features an obtrusive manservant (Kraemer) and a hideous, yet inexplicably popular, maid (Lizzy Colandene).
Blood, Sweat & Fears: A Grand Guignol Cabaret
closes July 31, 2016
Details and tickets
The story is funny enough, but director Zavistovich takes it over the top, with exaggerated gestures and overall broadness of aspect. This winking, self-conscious style seems designed to let us know it is a comedy, but we could figure that out for ourselves, He has Miletich and Wasno deliver their opening dialogue at such a quick pace that I had trouble understanding the words, much less the characters. Finally, Colandene, despite heavy makeup and her character’s astonishing personal hygiene practices, is not hideous. She, like all women, is lovely.
The 2008 production had the excellent idea of engaging a burly male actor (Eric Humphries) in the role, and we could instantly see why the play’s principals considered her hideous, if not why every other male in the town was so glad to see her.
After each play, there is an intermezzo of genial partygoing, in which Bevan sings and Shear’s character focuses on a hapless male audience member, who she considers a candidate for a quick bout of love, followed by a slow, agonizing death. (All right. I was the hapless audience member on opening night). Eventually, she finds herself distracted by one of the good-looking, tuxedoed men on stage. Thank God.
Blood, Sweat and Fears, consisting of The Lighthouse Keepers, by Paul Autier and Paul Cloquemin, Tics, by Rene Berton, and The Last Kiss, by Maurice Level, all translated by Richard Hand and Michael Wilson . Directed by Alex Zavistovich, assisted by Elliott Kashner (who directed The Lighthouse Keepers) . Featuring Jan Bevan, Zach Brewster-Geisz, LizzyColandene, Katie Culligan, Fabiolla Da Silva, David Dieudonne, Brian Kraemer, Alex Miletich IV, Jennifer Restak, Mallory Shear (who was also fight choreographer), Annette Mooney Wasno, and Gray West . Lighting design by Pete Vargo . Set design by Mary Seng . Costume designer Jesse Shipley . Stage manager Sara K. Smith, assisted by Audrey Enright . Original music by Gregory Thomas Martin, with Jill Parsons on the piano . Reviewed by Tim Treanor.