The Blood Brothers Present...The Master of Horror
nytheatre.com review by Nat Cassidy
October 10, 2008
Allow me to say right off the bat: I am an enormous Stephen King fan. Like, really enormous. I've read everything the man's ever published (and then some), seen all the movies, even scoured all the major scholarship on the guy. You can imagine my delight, then, when Nosedive Productions, as part of their Blood Brothers Present series, decided to produce an evening of one acts adapted from some of King's shorter works. As I read their press release about the works they'd be adapting, the look on my face could best be described as geekish fanboy delight. Better still, some of my favorite indie writers and directors would be involved in the project.
However, there was cause for trepidation, as well. Adapting King is a notoriously difficult enterprise. In the cinema, for every Stand By Me and Shawshank, there are innumerable Manglers and Secret Windows. And the stage has not been kind to Mr. King, either. Despite a successful adaptation of Misery that seems to pop up regionally every now and then (and the forever-in-the-works musical that King is working on with John Mellencamp), the first thought that comes to mind when hearing the words "Stephen King" and "theatre" is the regrettable 1988 musical of Carrie. Not so flattering a legacy.
I'm happy to report, then, that Nosedive's evening, entitled The Master of Horror, is an admirable attempt to realize King's work theatrically. Though the show is ultimately a mixed bag of carnal delights, they wisely focus on the human elements that make a Stephen King story successful. My hat is off to them for obviously coming to the material with respect, energy, and most importantly, a vicious hunger for the jugular (here's a good spot to warn you: the people in the front row will get wet). It's a great choice for those in search for a show more morbid than, say, The Seagull, this Halloween.
The night begins in the dark. A flashlight is clicked on beneath the pale, hairless head of one of the titular Blood Brothers. He goes on to relate, with the help of his sanguine siblings, a couple of true stories in which people were maimed and murdered apparently due to the influence of popular horror media. Entitled The Last Waltz (by James Comtois and directed by Pete Boisvert and Patrick Shearer), this segment becomes a frame tale for the evening. It's a shrewd and clever convention, adapted from the last chapter of King's 1981 nonfiction examination of the horror genre, Danse Macabre. It serves as a mission statement for the adaptations that follow: all of them are essentially free of the supernatural. These are all tales of people doing bad things to other people, no demons or vampires required.
The first story, Nona (adapted by Comtois and directed by Shearer), tells the tale of a young drifter, who finds himself under the sway of a mysterious woman he meets at a truck stop. The young man is ably played by Jeremy Goren, and Nona is given an ethereal grace by Jessi Gotta. It is an engaging segment, though it succumbs to a rather dispassionate energy that ultimately dilutes the climax.
Next is Quitters, Inc., adapted by Qui Nguyen and directed by Boisvert. This tale will be familiar to those who've seen the 1985 film Cat's Eye—it's a particularly twisted tale of a company that deals in aversion therapy for those wanting to quit smoking. Nguyen does a nice job making the material his own (this is the only tale, after all, with an immediately available adaptation), but the chapter is hampered by a frame narrative that belies the story's tension. We don't get to really experience the growing terror of the client (played with charm and conviction by Michael Criscuolo) as he realizes just what he's signed up for, since we see where it leads right away.
Nguyen also serves at fight choreographer for the entire production, and his work, as per usual, is excellent.
Quitters, Inc. is followed by Paranoid: a Chant, a one-woman performance of one of King's rare forays into poetry. It is directed by Boisvert and fiercely acted by Gotta. It ends up becoming the highlight of the evening, due entirely to the actress's skill and Boisvert's excellent management of the character's roiling (and, in lesser hands, nonsensical) paranoia.
Lastly is In the Deathroom, adapted by Mac Rogers and also directed by Boisvert. Dramatically, it is the most successful of the short plays, though it ends up trying to cram a little too much plot into so short a time. The ensemble works fluidly together, and Rogers deserves extra kudos for finding a clever way of avoiding the source material's more pyrotechnic ending.
If there is a weak link to be found in the evening, it is in some of the technical aspects of the show. Some of it, of course, is purely budgetary (and the directors do a great job of getting around their limited funds: I was a particular fan of the touch-light car effect in Nona), but far too many times that night, light cues would come up in random places, then disappear, and actors were often lit by the periphery of a light, while the hot spot glared unoccupied on the floor a foot or two away. This might have been a desired effect, to keep everyone in shadows, or it could have been a one-night-only visit by some technical gremlins, but it made for occasionally uncomfortable viewing, and could be a distraction.
However, though it is a danse macabre with a few missteps, it's well worth checking out Nosedive's The Blood Brothers Present. . .The Master of Horror. As far as I'm concerned, King is one of the most important, imaginative, and impactful authors of the 20th century, and it's always great to see his tales in capable, intelligent, and bloodthirsty hands.