Here are a couple reviews that have come out so far. I will continue to update as they come out.
A literary heavyweight and living master of horror and short fiction, Stephen King lent six of his spookier short stories to the Visceral Company for adaptation to the stage. In prototypical King fashion, each of the stories is an eerie exploration of the darker side of the human spirit.
Perhaps by happenstance but more likely by design, the plays seemed to improve as the show went on, slowly building on one another and culminating with what was the least creepy but most entertaining play of the six. Though many of the players appeared in several of the plays, each was written, directed, and lead-acted by different talents so each play warrants its own consideration as a separate entity from the others.
The production opened with Strawberry Spring, a college-set murder mystery where red herrings abound and the killer’s identity is a topic of constant speculation. The end reveals a surprising twist, but the revelation is less jaw-dropping than it is head-scratching. Daniel Patrick’s depiction of a college student caught up in a murder mystery was vaguely wanting of endearment and Kerr Seth Lordygan’s comic relief seemed forced, conceivably only because his character’s vulgarity seemed an abrasive opening to the production. The weakest of the six plays, Strawberry Spring’s greatest shortcoming was its inability to grab the audience and get them invested in the mystery.
The second play Mute centers around a mysterious hitchhiker and a Catholic confessional. The lead actor Roger Weiss emotionally spills to his priest about a peculiar, silent hitchhiker who deeply affected Weiss’s character in truly unspeakable ways. In a display of extremely effective storytelling, Mute’s surprise ending reveals itself to the attentive audience member just moments before the characters spell it out in plain English; this final revelation is enough to compensate for the play’s slow start and apparent sluggishness.
Bringing the show into intermission was Nona, the story of a ghoulish Bonnie and Clyde-esque romance between two drifters. Erica Rhodes’ convincing performance as the fiendish title character and a less-believable Corey Craig (if largely because his boyish looks clashed with the ruthlessness of his character) as her spellbound lover struck a chord with the audience, and even a gaffe in blocking that resulted in a jarring banging noise did not deter from the story or the two actors’ chemistry. Complete with romance, uninhibited violence, and ghostly overtones, Nona was the most entertaining story to that point, a good hook that returned theatre goers to their seats shortly after they departed for intermission.
Following the break, the two apparent senior statesmen of the Visceral Company flexed their muscles in the finest-acted performance of the evening. In the single-scene play Harvey’s dream, an elderly couple, ably portrayed by Kathy Bell Denton and Jonathan Harrison, toils over a grim vision that Harrison’s character experiences in a dream. As the dream is explained, the two characters struggle with the possibility that it may not have been just a dream after all.
The Man Who Loved Flowers, the shortest play of the evening, saw Craig decidedly redeem any lingering misgivings about his earlier performance in Nona; similarly, Roger Weiss’s supporting role as the flower salesman oozed charm and surely outshined his lead role in Mute. The Man Who Loved Flowers was straightforward and linear in story, but the outstanding acting by all parties involved (including the seemingly under-utilized Renee-Marie Brewster) made it an effective transition to the oddly entertaining concluding play.
Though its basic premise was mildly unsatisfying (the plot arbitrarily hinged upon the extent to which its characters were addicted to cigarettes), The Ten O’Clock People was seriously engaging and made an excellent ending to the production. The chemistry between its two lead actors (Jared Martzell and Carl Bradley Anderson) was apparent in their first exchange, and Martzell’s portrayal of a stressed-out businessman and struggling-to-quit cigarette smoker was spot on. The story itself was a departure from the others in that it dealt candidly with the supernatural, whereas all of the other plays were expressly concerned with the evils of the human character, save for Nona which merely hinted at paranormal activity. If you’re not one to be put off by a storyline that lies outside the realm of everyday reality, and if you can appreciate a solid blend of horror and comedy with a touch of absurdity, you will thoroughly enjoy Dead of Night’s closing play.
Dead of Night runs through the Halloween season on Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, and on Sundays at 3pm, at the historic Lankershim Arts Center in North Hollywood. While not necessarily staggering, fans of the horror genre or theatergoers intending to embrace the Halloween spirit will find that a seat in the theatre is worth the $25 ticket price.
In “Harvey’s Dream,” Kathy Bell Denton and Jonathan Harrison do a fine job portraying an older couple, parents of adult children, faced with the growing terror that the husband’s nightmare is invading reality. Their work together is ably measured, and director Angela Relucio has the good sense to curtail any tendency to melodrama.
– OCTOBER 10, 2011
In a world where everyone loves Stephen King…
It’s hard to be one of the critics. King himself admits he’s a sausage-maker, and I think he’s a damn good one at times. But there’s something more that a reader of his fiction — or a viewer of its adaptations — picks up after a while, and it’s pretty ironic coming from a creaky old dinosaur like yours truly.
The fact is, a lot of King’s short fiction is kinda old-fashioned in the year 2011.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Old-fashioned is good, and classics are always classics, old or new. But theater and short fiction are in a constant uphill battle for readership viewership, and they’re also in a struggle for social currency. Fusty literary journals that still think Raymond Carver is on the cutting edge, stodgy genre fiction magazines that keep serving up the fans’ favorites, community colleges and little theaters giving you the umpteenth revival of The Fantasticks or Much Ado About Nothing — all these outlets are bringing you the newest ideas of about 20-50 years ago. Again, nothing wrong with it, but publishing and theater are meant to do more than just keep the classics in circulation so that each generation can experience them for itself. (Or, more to the point, so that the same generations can experience them over and over…)
This is why the Visceral Company’s production of Dead of Night, an anthology of six Stephen King short stories adapted to the stage, feels like such a departure. The company’s trademark has been to blaze new trails in dark and disturbing theater, and they’ve done an exception job of it in their previous shows. With Dead of Night, they’re taking a somewhat safer tack — let’s face it, if Stephen King was that far off the beaten track, he wouldn’t be the world’s best selling horror writer — and the real question is, can they do it with their customary style and art? The answer is a qualified yes.
In the six short vignettes the company packs into two hours (with intermission), namely Stephen King’s “Nona,” “Strawberry Spring,” “Harvey’s Dream,” “The Man Who Loved Flowers,” “Mute” and “The Ten O’Clock People,” the Visceral Company weaves together a unifying theme of dreams, delusions, madness, altered perception, murder and the horror found in the commonplace. The cast and their directors are all strong, with particular standout performances by Jared Martzell (in “Mute” and “The Ten O’Clock People”), Roger Weiss (“Monette”) and Kathy Bell Denton (“Harvey’s Dream”).
Springheel Jack, the undead, witchcraft, homicidal maniacs, unearthly creatures and urban legends come to life — there’s no doubt the show’s got it all. And it’s impossible to fault the minimalist set by Sean Vasquez and props (though there was one rather disturbing thing about the props: They appear to my tired old eyes to be live steel blades!), and as always, the Visceral Company showcases John McCormick’s flawless sound design and Willy Greer’s highly effective original music for the show. Technically, the show’s a gem.
The bat in the ointment, unfortunately, is the source material. Stephen King + anthology theater apparently = the slightest smell of old paper and dust. (Again, not necessarily a bad thing, but…) There is sometimes the sense that we’re looking back into vague moments out of a sinister landscape of the past, despite no clear attempt to make the work a collection of period pieces. There’s also the general air of King himself writing short fiction that fits better in long-ago genre magazines than it would fit beside his own current novel output. This criticism is hard to put into words that are fair to the talent all around this show, but it really comes down to this: Stephen King’s short stories seem like B-student Twilight Zone and Tales From The Darkside episodes, and it’s hard for the Visceral Company to rise above that here.They do, in a few places, most notably the delightful fear of the conclusion of “The Ten O’Clock People,” but otherwise there is a sense that the company has leashed itself to a well-known commercial property that really isn’t a good fit. If you had seen the Visceral Company’s previous shows (including The Revenants and Closetland, both reviewed here), the contrast would be sharp as one of King’s psychopaths’ knives. (And his stories of madness and murder do seem to crib a good deal from the late Robert Bloch, by the way, but that’s a matter for a literary criticism column.) I understand why the company would choose to do something a bit more obviously commercial, but here’s hoping they go back to blazing new trails of their own, too.
Still, this is good horror theater, and there aren’t very many places you’ll find that around town. (Just a few, in fact. Have a look around this blog and you’ll see ‘em!) Dead of Night takes a solid, workmanlike approach to an American favorite and delivers the shivers. If you’re a King fan, you’ll be especially delighted with it all; these aren’t stories of his that you see performed every day. For all that it has that touch of musty old bookstore, Dead of Night is well done, and hey, it’s Stephen King, ‘tis the Halloween season, and you don’t see shows as good as the ones put on by the Visceral Company every day. Go and enjoy!
Dead of Night Offers Chills
Just in time for Halloween, the Visceral Company presents an evening of suspenseful short plays based on Stephen King short stories. A little uneven, the presentation does feature some fine acting and production work.
The production features six King stories that offer a chilling twist at the end, often macabre and eerie. While the pieces do include both lighthearted moments and dark, suspenseful sections, most of the works are too literary bound, telling events through narrative rather than visceral presentation.
The show builds as the evening progresses, with the last play, “The Ten O’clock People,” the strongest. Director Jana Wimer and writer Dan Spurgeon create fine staging and images in the last setup, complemented by creative lighting and effects. Ironic humor, dark twists, and nice timing add to the spooky feeling. “Mute” is also good, understatedly revealing how one man unexpectedly gets his problems resolved. “Nona” has some twisted moments, and “Harvey’s Dream” is believably real.
Jared Martzell brings quiet intensity and energy to his characters, making them believably edgy and vulnerable at the same time. Roger Weiss makes the troubled Monette alternately relieved and suspicious. Corey Craig’s gentle, shy appearance hides the angry, menacing ogre within his often psychotic and dangerous characters. Carl Bradley Anderson gives solid, understated dignity to his roles.
The show features adult language and situations, and is recommended for more mature audiences.
Dead of Night demonstrates that things often aren’t what they seem, suggesting that charming, sweet looking characters often hide boogeymen inside.
The Visceral Company presents Dead of Night Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m. through Nov. 6 at the Lankershim Arts Center located at 5108 Lankershim Blvd. in North Hollywood. Tickets cost $25. Please visit www.thevisceralcompany.com for further information or to buy tickets.
If you are one of many Stephen King fans, you must see “Dead of Night“, now playing at the historic Lankershim Arts Center. The Visceral Company has cooked up a feast of six stories in all, with a fifteen minute intermission. These are new original mini-plays, each based on stories by Stephen King. Here you will be drawn in to each characters ploy and wonder how its going to be played out? All the ingredients that King fans enjoy are boldly displayed. Murder. Serial killers. Premonitions. Evil other-world conspirators. All played out in the dark-night mists and fogs within which Stephen King loves to place his stories. And don’t worry, the actors have nailed their parts, from beginning to end, and nothing was left out! Each story explores the dark side of human psychology. That’s right, you’ll practically be chewing off your fingernails trying to anticipate the edge-of-your-seat endings! Reminiscent of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone, these tightly directed stories lead you down a twisting path to ironic, and sometimes disturbing conclusions.
Don’t be the only one among your friends to have missed out on these great plays, all brought to you by very passionate and talented actors! So, if anyone is to blame for you missing out on this cult classic series, it will be you!
For a satisfying theatrical evening, go to www.thevisceralcompany.com for tickets and info.