Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Master of Horror

Photo/Aaron Epstein

"Resist the tendency to kill the messenger for the message," says a pale-faced and red-eyed Patrick Shearer to the audience, quoting from Stephen King. "Evil is basically stupid and unimaginative and doesn't need creative inspiration from me or anybody else." That said, he can't help but take a cue from Misery as he goes about chopping off Marsha Martinez's leg, no more than his rabid co-director and Blood Brother, Pete Boisvert, or the ditsy murderess, Sister Blood (Rebecca Comtois), can refrain from splattering the front row of the Endtimes Underground theater with stage blood. However, Nosedive's third frighthology, The Master of Horror, is an adaptation of Stephen King stories, which makes this a series of secondhand plays from thirdhand actors, and while nothing's butchered, the plays frequently flatline, lacking the imagination (and freedom) of their original, themed works, Grand Guignol ('06) and Pulp ('07).

For instance, James Comtois's contribution, "Nona" (Skeleton Crew), looks at what happens to repressed emotions when the once passive Loverboy (Jeremy Goren) becomes unfettered by the enabling Nona (Jessi Gotta), leading him to go from pummeling truckers to taking out drivers, good Samaritans, and the cops as he tries to show his capacity for love. Falling back on the pulp first-person narrative, Comtois manages to convey Loverboy's plight, and Shearer's direction charmingly superimposes classic tunes over some violent acts, but Comtois's normally playful voice (as seen in his scene-changing "The Last Waltz" vignettes) is straitjacketed by the bland, single-direction plot.

Qui Nguyen, adapting "Quitters, Inc." (Night Shift), is more successful keeping his action-oriented voice intact, excitedly beginning in media res. However, the subtle menace of the original tale, in which Vic Donatti's implied violence is meant to scare Richard Morrison from ever smoking, is done in by the over-the-top "conflict" between these two, a gleeful Marc Landers and indignant Michael Criscuolo. The same goes for Cindy (Martinez), who hardly seems shocked by the bruises inflicted on her for her husband's smoking. Given the large deviations from the original (which takes the anti-smoking to the next level of regulation, weight loss), and the emphasis on a punchline ("Here's my card!"), you can practically see Nguyen trying to unburden himself from this mottled corpse of a story.

And then there's Mac Rogers, doing "In the Deathroom" (Everything's Eventual). You can see him trying to fill out the frame of King's original work, in which Fletcher (Ben Trawick-Smith) is tortured for information by a South American government. Fletcher now has an alterior motive that provides a plot twist; the torturer, Heinz (Christian Toth) is now a sadistic, nerdy, homophobe; and Escobar (Goren) is an intelligent tyrant, convinced of his own righteousness. It's admirable, but as with the other plays, it has nowhere to go, stuck as it is in the shadow of King's pacing. Even with great lines, strong direction from Boisvert, and nice acting, it ends up doing little more than producing an eye-popping effect.

In truth, Stephen King's short stories, especially his early ones, aren't that clever, original, or even good: many of them are flat. Even when they're well-performed, as with Gotta's crazed recitation of King's 100-line poem, "Paranoid: A Chant," it seems that putting King in three dimensions makes his flaws all the more visible--like watching something in high-definition for the first time. They dull the strengths of these three playwrights, the morbid special effects of the crew, and the energy of the cast, until the whole evening can do little more than shuffle, zombie-like, along.

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