Tuesday, October 26, 2010

THEATER: The Halloween Plays

Photo/Steve Bartel

They're called The Halloween Plays, but they'll end performances on Halloween. They're supposed to be "scary," but given the styles of the three creators--Austin McCormick's baroque dance, Cynthia Babak's contemporary charm, and Greg Kotis's campy wit--there's little horror. They're supposed to be appropriate for young adults, but there's a tight margin with all the implicit sex, death, and violence. To sum up, whatever they're supposed to be, The Halloween Plays have ended up as a middling series of one-acts.

Kotis's entry, "Salsa," is the strongest of the lot, mainly because he doesn't bother to mask his voice or to play for the audience. Kevin Hogan is made for such work, with a muggy face and a versatile range, he chews up the paltry diner scenery as his character, Harry, goads the hot-seeking Joe (Sean Patterson) into trying an especially potent blue-chili sauce. The punchline is a bit disappointing, as is the thrifty appearance of Chicotlitzl (Alvin Hippolyte), but the recurring gags and infectious cackling does enough to sell the short.

The same can't be said of Babak's "Too Much Candy," which starts off well enough: a middle-aged Hansel (Stuart Zagnit) goes to regression therapy with a familiar Doctor (Claire Beckman) in order to cure his traumatic addiction to candy. But while the sight of Zagnit helplessly cramming chocolate into his mouth--or attempting to hold himself back--is hilarious, the play takes several steps backward as it uses flashbacks to relay the familiar gingerbread story that we already know. Nell Balaban's direction keeps the transitions brisk, and has some nicely staged bleeding between the past and present, and Scott Voloshin draws some laughs out of his purposely horrendous portrayal of the Witch, but there's simply too much clutter. Mothers, fathers, birds, children: there are moments when it's all just a bunch of unfunny squawking.

As for "Denouement," it's the first of McCormick's pieces not directly tied to an existing framework (past shows have centered on Snow White, the Trojan War, the Garden of Eve), so it, too, winds up rambling. Jeff Takacs's narrative is fine, and delivered in a fey and ghoulish way, but the plot is so mundane--three guns, six bullets, three couples, will any survive?--that the entire evening becomes about the dancing. And while this would normally be enough, the lack of any props and set pieces, not to mention the one-note costuming, call attention to the similarity of these threadbare numbers. If you've never seen Company XIV before, the stylized twirls and dips may be enough, but it's perhaps too on the nose about "the death of the passionate ones."

Halloween is the time to dress up, think big, and be something other than what you usually are: with The Halloween Plays, Company XIV and the co-producing World Repertory Theatre have merely put themselves forward, the result being that none of them have particularly stood out.

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