Mature audiences only
Blue Room and Chico State present Halloween plays for adults
Would you pay 10 bucks for a tour through a slaughterhouse? What if the slaughtered were of the two-legged variety, and you got to tour an old-time, dimly lit British whorehouse first?
That’s a good lad. Right this way.
’Tis the season, and director/carnival barker Steve Swim and his cast of zombie whores and psycho killers has taken over every hidden room, creaky stairwell and dark hallway of the old Masonic Temple that houses the Blue Room and created The Slaughterhouse in honor of all stuff scary.
The experience features a blood-soaked haunted house tour, preceded by a short Grand Guignol-like murder play.
In its early days, the Blue Room used to regularly produce seriously bloody (and bloody funny) adaptations of the horror-show style of theater made infamous in the early half of the 20th century at Paris’ Grand Guignol theater. Then, some New Yorker went and copyrighted the name Grand Guignol, and some Blue Room actor smacked his melon on the floor after slipping in an impressive pool of blood, and away the gore-fest went.
The brief Slaughterhouse offering that kicks off the tour eschews overt blood-letting in favor of creating anticipation of blood being spilled. The setup is based on Jack the Ripper, with a British whorehouse all atwitter over the news that Jack is out cutting up women in the night. When the next John turns out to be Jack, then … can you guess? Maybe not.
It’s a fun scene that’s both scary and funny. And though Swim says the actors rotate depending on the night, that night’s whore and madam (Kate Corey and Holly Brown, respectively) were delightful. And Paul Valadon, as the accordion-playing host, is hilarious with his (appropriately) barely discernable cockney one-liners.
As for the haunted house tour that follows, I won’t give away any of the goodies other than to say that there’s a reason why the walls and floors were covered in plastic on your way in. And one piece of advice: take the lead in the tour if you want to get the full fright effect. You don’t want to have your surprise ruined by the shrieking crowd of girlfriends in front of you, do you?
It was so surreal.
Seriously, it was actually surreal. For real. Here I was, sitting in the middle of the wide, empty Harlen Adams Theatre, while Chico State’s Department of Theatre ran through a dress rehearsal of Ubu Roi, and I was surrounded by a bona fide surreal environment. And it was thrilling.
Even two days out from opening night, with some tech work still in progress, the cast and crew have thoroughly nailed Alfred Jarry’s century-old, surreal, murder-your-way-to-the-top, political satire.
The cast was dressed with a Mad Max mix-and-match shabbiness, complete with kneepads, as they swarmed about the expansive set, and into the audience, and through a side door, and up through two heavy trap doors in the stage that slammed shut behind them. People drew graffiti on the walls and on the stage with chalk. A dizzy cartoon dog was projected in a loop on the wall. And the set was just astonishing.
A two-stories-tall fireman’s pole, the trap doors and large skateboard ramp that emptied a rollerblading, skateboarding cast onto the stage gave this hyper cast some impressive entry points into the fray. Facing it all were floor-to-ceiling walls made from wood pallets, the slats in which created impressive diffusion for a variety of back lights, providing a suitably shabby background for the play’s kitchen-sink aesthetic. Awesome.
It was experimental theater … with a budget.
The entire cast deserves equal credit for fearlessness, from the leads through every multicharacter member of “the horde.” Director Katie Whitlock cuts them loose, and their sharpness and complete immersion keeps the absurdity from being clouded by the kind of self-serving obtuseness that sometimes accompanies surrealist art.
It’s violent. It’s weird. It’s vulgar. It’s hilarious. Oh, and there’s a story of murderous political corruption, too, that manages to, sort of, thread its way through the whole beautiful mess.