Still hanging on to those last few pieces of Halloween candy? Hesitant to fold your skeleton t-shirt into the Out Of Season box of clothes? Luckily for those who revel in the season of shivers, Happenstance Theater has brought its Edward Gorey inspired show to town. And not just any town: Baltimore, home of Edgar Allen Poe, is just the place for this funny and gloom-filled Victorian scrapbook of vignettes.
Happenstance Theater has become renowned in our area for their ‘theatrical collages’- broadly physical comedy pieces, centered upon themes such as 17th century art, the circus, and vaudeville. Cabaret Macabre is yet another piece in their signature blend of humor and pathos, and it’s a wild, dark ride down the rabbit hole.
To begin with, the variety of characters from this small six member ensemble is dizzying- among them there are ill-fated boaters on a lake; wicked little children at play; drowned lovers, the down and out denizens of a down and out boardinghouse; a silent gentleman in a fur coat, carrying an urn of ashes (well, we hope it’s just ashes); dull upper-crust guests at a party, amusing themselves; and a full coach of railroad travelers. All of them are ever-so-slightly twisty and doomed in their own way, and the delight is in the anticipation of their assorted fates. And it’s worth the price of admission just to see character master Mark Jaster as a befuddled, aged lord in a wicker wheelchair with his maid. All he really does is look at the evening paper- it’s not much of a scene, I’ve just realized- but it’ll have you in stitches nonetheless.
And that’s really the delight of this show. Quick little snippets of proper Victorian attitudes, bumping up against inevitable, sudden and unforeseen mortality; it’s the very essence of Gorey. Who knew that afternoon tea could turn so deadly? And that the game of croquet could be so venomous?
I’ll have to list the entire cast to really give each credit: Mark Jaster, Artistic Co-Director as well, is, as mentioned before, a master craftsman. Likewise the company’s other Co-Director, Sabrina Mandell, a grand craftsman of physical comedy; and Gwen Grastorf, Sarah Olmstead Thomas, and Alex Vernon are no slouches either. No wonder the company won Outstanding Ensemble at last year’s Helen Hayes Awards.
And the most valuable member of the talented cast- goodness knows what they’d do if this woman ever gets the flu and can’t go on- is Karen Hansen, who is the music composer, arranger, and the entire band all at once. I lost count of the innumerable musical instruments she puts her hand to: piano, horn section, weird old-fashioned organ thingie, cymbals, and an hysterical two-horn trumpet, to name just a couple.
Cabaret Macabre: The Return Visit
closes November 13, 2016
Details and tickets
Though there’s really no set to speak of (unless you count the clever moving sea and boat, a nice homage to Gorey’s drawings), your eyes will still be delighted by many- make that many, many- impeccable costumes. Sabrina Mandell won a Helen Hayes Award for costuming last year, and it shows: the historical accuracy of the various Victorian frocks and gowns, on what must be a tight budget, is a wonder indeed. That 1920s cobweb frock! The lady on the train! The maids’ ensembles!
Frankly, I’ve seen larger stage shows, with bigger budgets, that don’t have such attention to detail. It’s pretty impressive- matched only in impressiveness by the speed in which the ensemble, apparently without a backstage wardrobe crew, changes costumes.
At an hour and ten minutes, the only real complaint is that this isn’t a longer show, with a short intermission to catch one’s breath. But then… having seen what happens when one has tea with these people, would you really dare to sip a glass of wine served at intermission?
Cabaret Macabre: The Return Visit . Artistic Co-Directors: Mark Jaster, Sabrina Mandell . Musica Composer/Arranger/Performer: Karen Hansen . Ensemble: Mark Jaster, Sabrina Mandell, Gwen Grastorf, Sarah Olmsted Thomas; Alex Vernon . Costumes: Sabrina Mandell . Lighting: Kris Thompson . Stage Manager: Sarah Kate Patterson . Produced by Happenstance Theater . Reviewed by Jill Kyle-Keith.