Dreadful Penny's Exquisite Horrors
nytheatre.com review by Jo Ann Rosen
August 13, 2008
FringeNYC offers all sorts of surprises. In Dreadful Penny's Exquisite Horrors, a series of cabaret/circus-type sketches written by Alexandra Herryman and the ensemble of Tantalus Theatre Group, the surprise comes in the form of noir-ish and violent subject matter.
The performance begins with Dreadful Penny, an evil emcee who is "intent on drawing the hidden monster out of each audience member, thus bringing them under her dominion, ultimately devouring the world itself." This mission is, thankfully, too ambitious, or I might have found myself in the middle of a Zimbabwe- or Darfur-lookalike—much more than I had bargained for when I entered the Spiegelworld tent. A magician, a dancer, a singer, a heroine, and a freak assist Dreadful Penny in tapping into buried, dark desires.
It begins innocently enough. Jennifer R. LaTurner gives Penny an evil swagger. As one of her minions, Audrey Klein's singer is menaced during her performance, and blinded by flashing lights. Toni Machi, as the magician, interacts with the audience with a polished card trick and a modified rabbit trick, but quickly reverses the tone by inserting a six inch nail through her arm. Machi moves with confidence throughout. Amy Sherman is a sadistic heroine, and Mike Simmer is convincing as a freak longing for love. Erin Rigik, dressed in a kimono, performs a tortured strip tease, struggling with increasing frustration at removing her bindings: obi, kimono, garters, and stockings. Most clothes removed and exhausted, the character collapses, clawing at her arms and drawing blood. But to what end?
The troupe claims to appeal to an audience's deepest desires—assuming those desires are dark, naughty, and/or violent—as Penny asks, "How far are you willing to go to get what you want?" For some, it is drawing blood—thankfully, not real, but the demonstration made me gasp. For others, it's body and soul. They up the nastiness ante with each sketch. To make this work the story must be very strong. However, there is no plot, only an increasing amount of horror and humiliation. If the troupe intends this to be tongue-in-cheek, there must be some humor, however dark. Gratefully, the actors are not entirely into their roles. For that, I was actually thankful. In the end, I was simply uncomfortable.