Saturday, July 2, 2011

Gruesome Fun - "The Blood Brothers Present... Freaks From The Morgue"

By Byrne Harrison

I will admit that I get a little spring in my step when I hear the Blood Brothers are back.  While I would never want to share an elevator with this particular pair of ghouls (so creepily brought to life by Pete Boisvert and Patrick Shearer), I know that their annual show, "The Blood Brothers present...," will be full of thrills, chills, and blood.  Oh yes, plenty of blood.

Narrated by the Blood Brothers, The Blood Brothers present... Freaks From the Morgue is a "torn from the headlines" evening of horror.  Freaks, in this case, refers to newspaper slang for short news articles.  The morgue is place where old newspapers and stories are kept.  So freaks from the morgue refers both to the cast of characters and the newspapers that inspire these stories.

The plays feature your friends and neighbors - drug addicts, good Samaritans and the people who take advantage of them, strong women, pedophiles, kidnappers, survivors, the mentally unbalanced, and of course, murderers.

Freaks From the Morgue is comprised of seven short plays from some of Off-Off Broadway's best - Mac Rogers, Stephanie Cox-Williams, James Comtois, Crystal Skillman, and Brian Silliman (whose work as an actor I'm familiar with, though this was my first experience with his playwriting).  The plays are directed by Pete Boisvert, Patrick Shearer, and John Hurley.

It would take a little too long to describe all the plays, so let me just give you a little snapshot.  Some plays are humorous, like Silliman's Hiccup, which features a girl (Leah Carrell) who can't stop hiccuping, and becomes addicted to the attention it brings her.  Some are gross - Comtois' Daddy's Bad Medicine nearly made me sick with its description of a stomach-turning mutilation, and his Otty, which features just a touch of cannibalism, had the best blood/body parts effects of the evening.  For pure creepiness, Silliman wins with his play Evening Lullaby featuring the relationship between a pedophile (Marc Landers) and his young victim (Ingrid Nordstrom).  It also features the best scream of the evening from Judy Merrick as the girl's mother.

My favorite of the plays, both in terms of the writing and the performances, is Final Girl by Mac Rogers.  This tight and well-written short play is disturbing, features some outstanding work by Ingrid Nordstrom and Stephanie Cox-Williams as meth-addicted whores, Collin McConnell as their dealer, Marc Landers as a serial killer, and Samantha Mason as a young woman looking for her lost sister - a young woman who knows one way or another, she will survive.  Adeptly directed by Patrick Shearer, this is the piece that shows just what The Blood Brothers presents... does best - creepy, supernatural thrillers.

Final Girl notwithstanding, Freaks From the Morgue isn't always as tight of a production as past Blood Brothers shows.  On the night I attended, some of the special effects didn't cooperate (a prop knife didn't discharge its blood in one scene, a blood pack was oozing blood early in another) and the timing seemed off in places.  But more than the timing, the energy seemed a bit off.  In past productions, there was an almost palpable feeling of perverse glee with the special effects (some scenes in previous shows still stick in my mind years later).  It's as though the designer was thinking, "Just how far can I take it this time?"  This year's production doesn't have quite the same joie de sang.  The effects are still well done technically, and plenty of arterial blood shoots across the stage (and occasionally into the audience), but with the exception of a gross (and absolutely terrific) blood effect in Otty, they just seem a little pro forma.

The high point of any Blood Brothers production for me is Boisvert and Shearer as the Blood Brothers.  Creepy and intimidating, their performances set the standard for the rest of the play.  Everything needs to be as disturbing as this duo is.

I will also say that one of the best ways to see horror, be it a play or movie, is to see it with a full audience.  The visceral reactions of your fellow audience members - the gasps, the starts, the covering of the eyes, the exclamations of disgust -  only serve to enhance the feelings you have while watching.  The matinee performance I attended had a small audience, which took away from the experience somewhat.
One other note, during the scene changes, bits and pieces from newscasts relating to the stories that inspired each short play can be heard.  Emphasizing the fact that these are based on real-life attrocities, this is a truly brilliant touch.

My suggestion is this.  First, go see Freaks From the Morgue before it closes.  The Blood Brothers present... is a rare annual delicacy, and shouldn't be missed.  Bring some friends.  And have some drinks, loosen yourself up.  Be prepared to be creeped out by what you see.  And sit close so you can feel the danger (and possibly the blood).  You'll have a great time doing it.

The Blood Brothers present... Freaks From the Morgue

By Mac Rogers
Featuring: Pete Boisvert and Patrick Shearer as The Blood Brothers

Bad Samaritan
By Stephanie Cox-Williams
Directed by Pete Boisvert
Featuring: Ingrid Nordstrom (Woman), Abraham Makany (Larry), Leah Carrell (Missy), Ben Schnickel (Eddie)

By Brian Silliman
Directed by Patrick Shearer
Featuring: Leah Carrell (Teenager), Ben Schnickel (Young Man), Samantha Mason (Young Lady), Marc Landers (Photographer), Stephanie Cox-Williams (Reporter)

Daddy's Bad Medicine
By James Comtois
Directed by John Hurley
Featuring: Stephanie Finn (Lil Angel)

Final Girl
By Mac Rogers
Directed by Patrick Shearer
Featuring: Ingrid Nordstrom (Lil Sister), Samantha Mason (Ashley), Stephanie Cox-Williams (Dolly), Collin McConnell (Quentin), Bobby (Marc Landers)

Evening Lullaby
By Brian Silliman
Directed by Patrick Shearer
Featuring: Ingrid Nordstrom (Young Girl), Juddy Merrick (Mother), Marc Landers (Pedophile)

By Crystal Skillman
Directed by Patrick Shearer
Featuring: Samantha Mason (Girl), Collin McConnell (Man)

By James Comtois
Directed by Pete Boisvert
Featuring: Ben Schnickel (Rice), Abraham Makany (Smith), TJ Clark (McNeil), Leah Carrell (Priscilla), Judy Merrick (Otty)

The Kraine Theatre
85 E. 4th St.

Through July 3rd

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