Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Twin Cities Horror Festival IV - Horrorshow Hot Dog Short Film Festival

Show five for me at the Twin Cities Horror Festival IV was a bit of a departure from the other shows, Instead of theater, this show was devoted to short horror films.

Presented by Horrorshow Hot Dog, a weekly horror movie podcast featuring Matt Allex, Charlie Buttermann, and Joshua Nite, the short film festival presented a different line-up every night. Check out the full line-up and info for each film at their website.

Here's what I LOVE: Being introduced to a whole world that I just missed somehow. As a huge fan of horror films, how could I not know how many cool short horror films are on the Internet? And how could I have missed realizing that, like short horror stories, short horror films might just be the perfect way to get your horror fix? Sheesh.

Sadly, because I'm lazy, this was the last show, and I can't urge you to go see it, but I will share what HSHD emphasized: If you see a great short film online that you love, share it, like it, promote it, cause that's how great short films get made into great full-length films.

The six short films were all incredibly well-done, and alternately hilarious and chilling. The beautiful thing about these films is HERE YOU GO! Check them out!  Yay internet!

Thresher: A Horror Short directed by Mike Diva - Chilling, Lovecraftian

Perished: Short Zombie Film directed by Aron McCann and Stefan Radanavoich 

Gotcher directed by Bruce Branit - Can't say anything about it, but it's a must-see and SUPER short

He Took His Skin Off For Me directed by Ben Aston - So very strange but compelling and beautiful

Seamstress directed by Tyler Mann - See crazy creepy pic below.

Don't Move directed by Anthony Melton - Beautifully done, flat-out scary, and probably the one that will stay with me the longest. Besides Gotcher, of course.

Yay short films! Check out Horrorshow Hot Dog for more horror film fun, plus tons of short horror films.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Twin Cities Horror Festival IV: Epidemic - Dangerous Productions

Did I mention that I heart Twin Cities Horror Fest, now in its fourth year?  Cause I really do.

Epidemic - Dangerous Productions
"Eleven people are locked in with a killer disease that eats you alive. Terrifying, bloody, and visceral, the newest horror offering from Dangerous Productions explores crowd violence and psychology, and asks the question: 'How would you like to die?'"

Upon entering the theater, the only set appears to be a blood-stained tarp, with a number of actors standing on it looking mysterious.

As a cast member passes out a diagram of Nosi Biotech, Inc. Residential Quarters, a man with a sweater vest and clipboard begins reporting on an epidemic gone wrong. A virus gets loose, people are affected, and the blood begins to spurt. Yes, spurt. Hence the tarp.

As a huge horror film and theater fan, I find gore depicted on stage to be really interesting. Where in films, it can be truly shocking (as in the recent,, gorgeous Crimson Peak), on stage it often has the effect of comedy, particularly when it's over-the-top. I'm thinking also of The Lieutenant of Inishmore, a dark comedy which was so rich in gore that we stayed for a bit and watched the clean-up crew wrestling with all the blood. Is it possible to have a serious, chilling play and also have arterial blood spray? I don't know.

There was a lot going on in this show. I always love a story about rampant virus (see The Stand), and the idea of a virus which isn't what is seems is fascinating, not to mention how people deal with tragedy and fear, particularly in a work-related situation. I'll be interested to see if this play goes on to further development. Can't give you any cast/writing info--the program insert is just the mysterious diagram.

UPDATE! There is a program, and it can be accessed with the QR Code on the diagram. You can also check it out at the Dangerous Productions website. And you should--the photography for this program is GORGEOUS (by Søren Olsen, Gifthorse Photography).

If You're Sensitive and/or Delicate: Oh, it's gory. Real gory. Don't forget to check out Twin Cities Horror Festival's handy genre and ratings guide.

Twin Cities Horror Fest: The Trail - The Importance of Being Fotis

Did I mention that I heart Twin Cities Horror Fest, now in its fourth year?  Cause I really do.

The Trail - The Importance of Being Fotis
"In the fall of 1982, four backpackers set out to hike and camp on the Appalachian Trail. Four days later their disfigured bodies were found by state police. The producers of Farmhouse return to the Twin Cities Horror Festival with a chilling account of getting lost in the woods and coming face to face with the terror that lies within."

Let me preface this review with the following necessary information:

I HATE CAMPING. Therefore, I am an excellent audience for a horror show that involves camping.

As you enter the theater, atmospheric haze already sets the mood. Julie (Debra Berger) and Sam (Mike Fotis) are setting up camp (well, Julie is--Sam mostly talks). They are waiting for Sam's sister Ruth (Keely Wolter) and her boyfriend Glen (Lucas Vonasek) to join them, though they've gotten a bit off the trail.

As they wait and chat and argue, and complicated family issues emerge and all is not as it seems. This show is all in the writing. I love the naturalistic dialogue and the depiction of very realistic relationships. So when things start to go a bit off-key, it's even more chilling.

If you've ever strained your ears to try to make out a mysterious sound in the woods, or tried to see beyond the firelight to the shadows in the trees, you will love this show.

If You're Sensitive and/or Delicate: There's a fair amount of smoke and haze in this show, if you're sensitive to that kind of thing. Don't forget to check out Twin Cities Horror Festival's handy genre and ratings guide.

In Short: Subtle and unnerving (even if you like camping)

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Twin Cities Horror Fest IV: The Deep Dark - Oncoming Productions

Did I mention that I heart Twin Cities Horror Fest, now in its fourth year?  Cause I really do.

The Deep Dark - Oncoming Productions
"When a boat like The High Hope sinks into the ocean, you don't expect to see it again. Maybe that is for the best. Told through movement, sound, and light, The Deep Dark is an account of two sisters' strange, harrowing return to the wreck that killed their father, and their encounter with what has been waiting for them in the depths."

How do you depict the depths of the ocean onstage at The Southern Theater? Very inventively.

Sisters Kara (Billie Jo Konze) and Annie (Kayla Dvorak Feld), the "Miracle Fuller Sisters," are going about their everyday lives. Annie spends her time near and in the ocean, researching whales and Kara, deathly afraid, refuses to go near the water. When Annie finds what she think is the wreck of their father's boat, both sisters go into the "deep dark."

The production of this show is beautifully done. With only a few chairs to provide sets (which reminded me of the Scottsboro Boys set) such as sofas, bars and even a research boat, the physical production is amazingly minimal. This show is all about the gorgeously atmospheric, ambient, chilling sound design and equally evocative lighting design.

I hate to say too much--I don't want to give anything away, including how they evoke the ocean, swimming and the secret behind the wreck.  I will say this: If you like the sense of the deep, dark ocean, read Susan Casey's book The Devil's Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America's Great White Sharks. Although it's about sharks rather than wrecks, it wonderfully evokes the sheer depth and mystery of the ocean.

If You're Sensitive and/or Delicate: Don't forget to check out Twin Cities Horror Festival's handy genre and ratings guide.

In Short: The Deep Dark is a chilling, atmospheric production that handles real issues of fear and grief in a creative, heartfelt fashion. If you love the work of Transatlantic Love Affair (and you should), you will likely enjoy this as well.

Twin Cities Horror Fest IV: Mortem Capiendum - Four Humors

Did I mention that I heart Twin Cities Horror Fest, now in its fourth year?  Cause I really do.

Mortem Capiendum - Four Humors
"A tonic with seemingly miraculous properties; Three con-men beginning to believe their own pitch; And a perfectly ordinary trunk containing...? A traveling medicine show from Four Humors."

Seeing this show first on our four-show day raised the TCHF bar to crazy heights. Mortem Capiendum makes me wish that theaters were more like movies, where you could just stay for the second show. 

From the first moment that Brant Miller walks out on stage with his banjo to the last chilling minutes, this play is hilarious, chilling, suspenseful and completely delightful. 

Matt Spring plays Prof. Johnathan St. Miracle, a huckster who is selling the eponymous immortality tonic. The utter waterfall of words that tumble out of St. Miracle is stunning--it's a perfect depiction of the Depression-era, fast-talking hustler. Brant Miller, as Eustis, his right-hand man, has an open, guileless face that make his deadpan comments even more hilarious. And as Lloyd, Jason Ballweber creates a fascinatingly complicated character.

With minimal staging, props and lighting, this show is all in the writing (by Ballweber, Miller, Spring and Matt Ryan) and the acting. Each of the actors goes through some serious character transformations, which is pretty amazing, given the short length of the show. (Of course, they have been working on it for a while.)

I love that the Twin Cities Horror Festival gives me the opportunity to check out theater companies whose work I haven't seen before. And it's SHAMEFUL that I've missed Four Humors so far--I'm embarrassed to say it. I won't make that mistake again. And I'm definitely putting their next production: The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha (May 13 - May 22, 2016 at the Dowling Studio at the Big G.) on my calendar.

If You're Sensitive and/or Delicate: Don't forget to check out Twin Cities Horror Festival's handy genre and ratings guide.

In Short: Go see it!

PS: Dear theater companies: Giving a treat/bribe as Four Humors did for filling out a survey?  Works for me!

Why I Love the Twin Cities Horror Festival (IV)

I heart the Twin Cities Horror Fest, now in its fourth year. Here's why (not in order of importance):

- It's a manageable size (twelve shows this year)
- It runs a reasonable amount of time (October 22 through November 1, 2015)

- It's at only one theater (The Southern Theater)
- And that theater is appropriately spooky
- And it has a bar

Their website rocks: Simple, clean and clear with descriptions, schedules by day and by show, and useful genres and ratings
- The staff and volunteers are marvelously organized, friendly and efficient

- The theater is located near a number of excellent restaurants and bars (Town Hall BreweryRepublicJewel of India and many more)

Oh, and I almost forgot: IT'S ALL SCARY!

For a horror and theater fan, who often has to content herself with the occasional Martin McDonough and Conor McPherson production, to have a whole festival devoted to spooky theater, during the best holiday season ever is fabulous. Thank you, TCHF!

Reviews so far (updated as they're added):

Mortem Capiendum - Four Humors
The Deep Dark - Oncoming Productions
The Trail - The Importance of Being Fotis
Epidemic - Dangerous Productions
Short Film Festival - Horrorshow Hot Dog
Martina's Broadway Horror Cabaret - Silver Slipper Productions

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Last chance: Prep at Pillsbury House

Pillsbury House Theatre is presenting a terrific production of Prep, a new play commissioned by the theater with the support of a Joyce Award. Playwright Tracey Scott Wilson's previous play, Buzzer, was co-commissioned by Pillsbury House and had its New York debut this spring at the Public Theater.

Wilson sets the story in a city prep school, where a white principal (Jodi Kellogg) does her best for her students (who she optimistically refers to as "scholars") in spite of the odds against them. The other two characters are two of her students, Chris (Kory LaQuess Pullam), and Oliver (Ryan Colbert). Rather than playing multiple roles, as many small-cast plays would require, the three characters interact with others via recorded voices, some of professional actors affiliated with the theater, and many students from Washburn and South High Schools. It's a clever device that allows for a number of voices, and it's not overused.

Reminiscent of Marcus Gardley's The Gospel of Lovingkindness, produced just a few months ago at Pillsbury House, the story deals with the effects of violence on young black men and those around them. However, while Gospel focused on the victim and perpetrator of a shooting, the characters in Prep are coping with the impact that violence has on the students' day-to-day lives. After one of their friends is shot and killed for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, Chris and Oliver's lives change. It's now a year later, and Chris, known as "Rev" has fashioned himself into a model student while Oliver has gotten involved with a rougher group of friends. Calling them a gang would be falling into the trap of many of the adults that come in contact with these young men, where just naming something gang violence can itself beget violence.
Ryan Colbert, Kory LaQuess Pullam, and Jodi Kellogg in Prep.

As Oliver and Chris try to reconnect, they deal with parents, friends, girls, and a field trip to a neighboring school that is meant to be inspirational, but has the opposite effect. None of the characters are as simple as they seems, and it's clear that the problem of institutional racism in schools and society has far-reaching implications even for those not directly impacted by violence.

Wilson packs a lot of content into a tight 70-minute show with no intermission, but it doesn't feel rushed. In fact, the language is quite poetic, with abundant internal rhymes, particularly in each characters monologues. The actors and director Noёl Raymond keep the rhythm just a notch elevated from normal speech without becoming sing-songy.

All three actors are wonderful. It's delightful to see Jodi Kellogg on stage again after a "stage retirement" we hope was only temporary. Her principal is hopeful for her students, but bluntly realistic about the challenges the world presents to them. Ryan Colbert and Kory LaQuess Pullam, both engaging, charismatic young actors seen in the Guthrie's production of Choir Boy, create wonderfully rounded characters, too. Colbert's Oliver shows both the tough-talking kid he is with his new friends and the sensitive soul beneath the bluster. LaQuess Pullam handle's Chris's sometimes surprising revelations with an almost frightening conviction.

Pillsbury House has just extended the run by a week, so you can still catch Prep through October 25. If you do, you will experience a whole range of emotions in a short time and be left with plenty of food for thought.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Broadway Songbook - The 70s Songbook at The Ordway

James Rocco's Broadway Songbooks have quickly become a staple of my theatergoing season.

The Songbooks are warm, chatty, and filled with interesting anecdotes about musical theater, as well as musical numbers sung by a richly talented cast and a band led by Raymond Berg. I love how much James Rocco's love of theater comes through in every show.

The 70s Songbook is a bit of a departure from past Broadway Songbooks. As Rocco puts it in his director's notes:
"Tonight we'll take a step back in time and explore the 1970s, a period of time when the classic form of musical theater began to deconstruct. Sometimes referred to as the "Me" decade, the 70s exploded with diverse forms of pop music that grew out of society's cultural individualism."
The 70s Songbook presents music from such songwriters such as Joni Mitchell, Carole King, James Taylor, Billy Joel and Elton John, in addition to some of the more standard musical theater offerings such as Company, Pippin and A Chorus Line.

The amazing cast includes Dieter Bierbrauer (always a treat), Caroline Innerbichler (a standout from the recent The Pirates of Penzance), Kersten Rodau (James Rocco's muse, I think), Randy Schmeling (fabulous as always), and Erin Schwab (we'll get to her in a minute).

Although I prefer the musical theater songs to the pop songs, any show that ends the first act with Erin Schwab and Kersten Rodau singing the fabulous Donna Summer/Barbra Streisand disco anthem "No More Tears (Enough is Enough)" is complete genius.

I have to say this out loud: Erin Schwab is a Minnesota treasure--I think it's time for her own Minnesota Originals show. Also, she was ROCKING a super sparkly dress.  So very sparkly.

Not to be all spoilery (too late), the other utterly transcendent moment from this show was Randy Schmeling singing "Corner of the Sky" from Pippin. I love seeing Randy Schmeling in any role, but I really loved hearing him really sing this song. His voice was clear, gorgeous, powerful, and he sang the HELL out of that song.

Oh, and one more thing: Hearing Kersten Rodau sing "Could I Leave You" from Follies made me long to see her cast as Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd. She would rock that role so hard.

With fabulous performances by all, the 70s Songbook is a delightful night at the theater.

A small quibble though: I have loved seeing representation in other songbooks by actors and singers of racially diverse backgrounds. I hope to see that again! I love by how The Ordway has really stepped up their game in terms of non-traditional casting--especially with the recent Damn Yankees and A Christmas Story. I'm crossing fingers for the same in the upcoming The Sound of Music.