The Blood Brothers Present: Pulp
nytheatre.com review by Kat Chamberlain
October 13, 2007
The first thing that will give you chills when you walk into the theatre for a night of promised fright is a figure sitting on a wheelchair, fully covered by a cloth, in the dim ice-blue light. It is a quietly creepy start that leads to some major splashes of bloody fun in The Blood Brothers Present: Pulp, seven short plays paying tribute to pulp horror comics and stories of the 1940s and 1950s.
The figure is soon unveiled as The Metaphor, James Comtois's take on art as surgery. As a "doctor" with painted white face and red eye-makeup starts to "get beneath the surface, and dig a little deeper" on our patient in the wheelchair, he argues that "art can be used like surgery to extract the cancer from our collective psyches." And the process is not a pretty picture. It's full of astute insight that is endearingly self-mocking. Patrick Shearer and Pete Boisvert are potent and colorful as the doctor and patient.
Mac Rogers's Best Served Cold is a spoof of a revenge tale, and the predictability is its virtue as the audience anticipates the twist to come. Brianne is tending her coffee shop when her ex-best-friend Marybeth, whose man, as well as life savings, she has apparently stolen, shows up with a gun. Fate turns to Brianne's favor when first a tired driver and then a cop drop in for coffee, but can she escape? Irony abounds in this swift-moving tale, and it works, thanks to the fluid performances of Jessi Gotta and Anna Kull as Brianne and Marybeth, respectively.
The frightfest continues as a hapless magician shows us Something up His Sleeve, my least favorite of the night's offerings that is conceived by the Blood Brothers. The tricks the magician pulls go horribly wrong, and he goes berserk. It's like one of those obvious jokes that leave nothing for the punch line.
A send-up and arch parody of zombie films, Dead Things Kill Nicely by Qui Nguyen plays lively games with the macabre and is cheerfully tongue-in-cheek. Molly is held captive by a pair of seemingly deranged characters—a brutish old woman named Story and the young, mentally-questionable Rhyme, who talks in disturbing nursery rhymes. She is shown their body parts collection and is rightfully terrified. But her attempt at saving herself yields unexpected results.
The show makes a turn and finds Bugs in My Skin, again conceived by the Blood Brothers, and the most interesting piece of the night. It plays perfectly to a tuneful song, and a man's story with bugs unfolds along with the lyrics. Michael Criscuolo is captivating as the Man, conveying a great deal with a few subtle and fresh movements.
Listening to Reason by James Comtois gets into thriller territory and generates real tension. A ruthless killer is cornered and tries to evade arrest by forcing a woman to turn away the cops. The twist is genuinely surprising and satisfying, not a small feat for the genre.
The night ends with the intellectually and politically rich What Color is the Sun? A woman is brutally tortured by another woman who is dressed like a lab technician. The interrogation is focused on that one question alone: What color is the sun? It incorporates some torture techniques that I have never seen, but the morbidity is anchored by the weighty reflection on torture as a means to an end.
All the shorts have a visual snap that is uncannily smooth. Special effects—the stage version—are arguably harder to pull off than those in film. The precision and timing has only one shot to get it right. Directors Rebecca Comtois, Patrick Shearer, Pete Boisvert, Stephanie Cox-Williams, Matt Johnston, and fight choreographer Qui Nguyen all deserve credit for making the fake blood and body parts extremely effective.
The actors, often playing multiple roles, are committed and seem to have a blast. The stories have certain in-jokes that only the genre aficionados will get, and the exercise in ribald humor may not be to everyone's taste, but there is sufficient originality and wit that it should please fans of horror or humor everywhere. It aims for not only the funny bone but the head as well, and scores with both. It is, true to form, a head-crackin' good time.