The Dave Clark Five sang, “Nothing seems to ever go right, I’m in pieces, bits and pieces, Cause night is day and day is night.” And although this play is probably referencing the mere fact that it is made up of ten smaller plays, that is the point too. See the play is a mash up of sorts. Some of the portions are bits of famous stories and plays brought to fruition, and other are pieces that have come from the warped mind of Jack Bellows (who I dearly love). So buckle in to hear of “carnal, bloody, and unnatural acts, of accidental judgements, casual slaughters….all of this can I truly deliver (Horatio),” get comfy.
The Mercury Theater is one of those quirky places in Baltimore. Devoid of HVAC, cumbersome to manipulate with one bathroom doubling as an actor’s entrance and exit, it could be problematic. But Jack Bellows uses the space to his advantage. With limited props and staging, the creepy area fits the scene just right. With a few spooks and haunts that will make you jump along the way, it seems the perfect backdrop for this collection.
Theo Parker takes the stage in what appears to be the opening curtain speech. But then it seems too rehearsed to be an off the cuff curtain throw away, and you realize you are in a monologue. And at that, he tells you, pretty early on, how it will end. But for whatever reason, because you have been to the theater before, because you don’t think you stumbled into a crazy play, or because you just opened an ice cold Natty Boh- you don’t believe him. This opening bit is titled, “content warning” and was written by Jack Bellows. It starts the night off with a bang, and progresses as it appears, setting us up for the next dark twisted tale. P.S. His “content warning” is not a hoax, he really does warn about things that WILL occur, so if these things trigger you- head for the exit while the getting is good.
Scene Two is called “Born of Man and Woman” by Richard Matheson. This is a short story from the 1950s that was featured in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. This story begins with a voice over (Harley Hines) of a child who is chained up in the basement. The story spends quite awhile in the beginning establishing a plotline, in the utter dark, with subtle movements that are odd to identify. As the story unfolds, the narrator becomes less associative, and more foreign to the audience. Without spoilers, this one is eerie, creepy and bizarre. You might have to shake it off to move to the next.
Dave Iden takes the stage front and center for the next vignette. This story says inspired by Richard Matheson, so I assume someone was inspired and thus adapted the storyline. If you haven’t heard of Matheson, he was an original writer for the Twilight Zone series. Iden speaks to his father and tries to cancel a standing date to take his girlfriend out instead. He has bought her a macabre doll from a small shop in Hampden that is supposed to contain a real spirit. As his guilty conscience begins to manifest, so does the demonic powers of “he who watches.” This one is one of the show’s highlights with special effects that are lovely and unexpected.
Betsy Curtis is the next Sci Fi author, whose work is adapted in this compilation. In thiss one, a drunk chick (Daniela Hernandez-Fuji) is the center of scorn and derision by those too weak-minded to follow her Jedi mind tricks. Instead they send in a ringer to interview her (Michael Stevenson) for a make believe magazine. Unfortunately, the more you listen to her, the more sense she makes and less your drunk friends in the corner seem important. Maybe THAT is the secret key to the universe. Instead of the shit in your teeth and gut that teleport you to another dimension, or whatever she was talking about- I drank some beer and nodded like I knew what was going on (spoiler alert- I have no idea what was going on).
The funniest part of the next scene is the album itself. A man was in a band, but now owns a second hand record shop with little to no business. His low wage front desk clerk is cynical and salty- perfect. But the album! It has a picture from Weekend at Bernie’s on it. And I don’t know why, but especially in a show full of death and ghouls I found it a bit too funny. I might have snickered a few times inappropriately- I am sorry (a little). This was rather fun, but a bit predictable and not one of the spookiest- the death of band mates (leaving Michael Stevenson behind) and a man’s existential crisis- maybe it was too sad and truthful. Sigh.
The next piece of fun is an homage to those old school Halloween parties. If your childhood was awesome, you went to a party where you put your hands in a box with a crazy label- like brains, or worms, and you felt spaghetti noodles or a jello mold and it creeped you out to no end. In this one a satanic preacher (Parker) comes out with a boombox and leads us in a dark spiritual ceremony. While taking volunteers from the audience and summoning monsters, the preacher passes around objects for the public perusal. This is the Halloween brain stew at its origin. Don’t be squeamish- pass it on.
The next scene pays respects to one of the masters- Roald Dahl- and his story “Man from the South.” This adaptation has a bit of a rocky in the beginning with several nationalities merging in what is supposed to be Jamaica, but no one is Jamaican. The magazine is old that the lady in the center is reading, and the Marlboro ad on the back kept snagging my attention. But a random old whack job bets a man on the bus (or some form of public transportation) that he can’t light his lucky lighter on demand- the bet? A car for his finger. Crazy shit right? They actually go up his apartment to follow through with it- when there is a twist. I read the story when I got home- because this is one that had an elaborate set up and tons of suspense going for it- but I missed the punchline. I don’t know if she (Cristine Sanchez) needs to be more obvious in her reveal, or the lighting needs to shift to highlight it, but I missed it in production. I only understand it now because I came home and read the story.
The eighth portion I titled “A little too close to home.” It highlights a twenty-year old (Julia Sine) who works in a restaurant, has anxiety and stress, and attempts to get a medical marijuana card to help with these issues. But the entire experience ends up seeming to instill more paranoia and anxiety than can be relieved via a puff puff pass. Oh friend, I feel you in my soul.
The next to last bit is an ode to the novel American Psycho and showcases a small segment of Bateman’s madness (Cristina Sanchez)- appropriately doled out over the entire novel. He was a man of many faces and many more psychological abnormalities. This one is well done and the build up is almost as good as the ending. Enjoy it- this night is coming to a close.
And last is a count down of warped gallows humor while a man (Michael Stevenson) sings himself to his own lynching. I called it Hangman Blues, but the actual title is “25 minutes to go” by Shel Silverstein. Wait, Silverstein? Like “Where the Sidewalk Ends?” Kids poetry? Tongue in cheek humor for YA Lit audiences? Gallows humor? I am so confused, but it is time to stand up and bid a fond adieu.
The six actors, Cristina Sanchez, Theo Parker, Dave Iden, Julia Sine, Michael Stevenson, and Daniela Hernandez-Fuji all take turns popping in and out of the spotlight. I loved Julia as the anxiety ridden restaurant worker loosing the tips of their fingers to shredders. Dave Iden is best when begin vexed by a puppet (you read that right), or being home with an axe murderer. Michael’s best role of the evening was either his comic rendition of the hangman’s song or the creepy bet maker in Dahl’s classic. Theo shines in the intro speech, and Sanchez is great with Stevenson in the Dahl story as well. Hernandez-Fuji is the best drunk chick ever, and I kind of wanna go drinking with her (hmu). I tried to note who was in which scene, but without a more detailed program, I could be really mistaken! So send corrections! (Or list actors in scenes or roles with names!)
The tech is light, there are some jumps and scares, and some humor mixed into the horror. All in all it is a compilation of entertaining stories just in time for the Festivities associated with Fall.
SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO? Always go support local new work by people we adore! Are you looking for something fun to do for Halloween? There’s Field of Screams and Apple bobbing, or spend a few bucks, grab a cold Natty Boh, and sit back and let some scares, well, scare you. The stories are intriguing, the cast is fun, and the environment is appropriately creepy and spooky in the Mercury Theater. Go see it before it leaves you in the dust. (I) More info on their facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/events/510472506436694/
Photograph by Allyson Washington Photography.
Running time about 90 minutes with no intermission. Runs through November 2nd Shows at 8, doors at 7:30. NO LATE SEATING due to the actors entrances/exits. Be prompt please.