On a windy October evening, my companion and I set out into the inner channels of Baltimore. Once there we met a vastly strange array of characters, at bars, dives, and among the streets. We settled into seats after so many stairs, the air, knocked out of us, to enjoy a night of theater, strange and wonderful. An homage to Edward Gorey and all his amphigory, let the insanity commence!
The evening’s shenanigans are based upon famous stories by Edward Gorey, the poet, writer, and illustrator most recognized for his darkly twisted Alphabet book. I won’t go through all the vignettes, but they are accompanied by Ellen Cherry on several pianos, and Mark Jaster playing a handsaw (yes, I wrote that correctly). Some shorts as “The Erstwhile Sisters” and “Silsby Suitor” are announced via black placards with white writing, evoking a Buster Keaton era of silent film, one of Happenstance’s trademark inspirations. The evening is mean to bring the pages of Gorey to life, and does, in a spectacularly warped way.
Happenstance is made up of rather gifted physical comedians. Mark Jaster is captivating while playing instruments that aren’t instruments, and most hilarious when donning an ill-fitting wig that becomes a prop in the middle of nonsense. Sabrina Mandell was comic gold as Collette, a precocious child doing inappropriate impressions of Ophelia and Marie Antoinette then striking matches and skipping away merrily. Gwen Grastorf’s haunting memory of the evening will be a stoic maid constantly pushing a wheelchair, or pacing slowly across the stage with a handful of something rotten and a smirk on her face. Sarah Olmstead Thomas is physical comedy goddess, and the slow motion croquet battle is a testament to her craft. And Alex Vernon is everything, including a talking head to run though names of victims, and a juggling butcher.
The timing and practice that Happenstance puts into their works must be astronomical. The precision and placement to make a scene look effortless is commendable. And the costumes! Oh the costumes! Sabrina Mandell has fashioned everyone into black Victorian wonderment. The corsets! The sleeves! The skirts! The hats! A-maz-ing. Stage Manager Tori Munoz keeps running with well-timed props to see that there is always a piece to exemplify the story. Lighting by Kristin A. Thompson is serenely dark also, in keeping with the themes of the evening. The red overtones are appropriately placed.
And if you thought Alex & Olmstead wouldn’t pull out at least one of their signature puppets, you are sorely mistaken. The scene where Alex waltzes his headless love is aching poignant in all the right ways.
SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO? Go see this mysterious, Gothic, irreverent night of Edward Gorey tales! The costumes are swoon worthy, the acting is so perfect it defies logic, and the stories are a bit haunting, a bit comedic, and a bit social commentary on the death of, well, everyone. We had a hauntingly good time!
Running time about 80 minutes with no intermission. Running through November 3rd at Theater Project.