As you may remember from my feature preview of the Twin Cities Horror Festival’s (TCHF) 8th season there are basically 13 one hourish shows rotating throughout the festival. I am scheduled at this point to take in 9 of the shows, after today I’m going to try and get to three of the others if I can. If that works out the only show I will not have been able to fit in is the Horror Show Hot Dog, which are showcases for horror short films. My first love was film, so it was hard to pass those up, but a man has to sleep, eat, and write. Rather than write 5 separate reviews for today’s shows and risk some of them not getting seen or lost in an avalanche of posts, I’ll be writing one review with all 5 shows and another review with the 3 scheduled for tomorrow and the 1 scheduled for Tuesday. Do not adjust your computer screens, the format below, while not the usual, is correct.
This was my first visit to the Southern Theater in Minneapolis and I have to say I really like this theater. It is perfect for TCHF, inside the performance space it has the look of a haunted castle. They have a nice selection of beverages (including Lemonade) and snacks for sale in the lobby. One word of warning before indulging into too many local brews or lemonades, the mens bathroom urinal is broken, so there is one stall available. As anyone who goes to the theater often knows Bathrooms are always in short supply, even more so here. If you need to go between shows, hustle out of the theater and get in line, or if you are having dinner at a nearby restaurant, go there before heading over. Two fun additional sidelines on the second level they have Living Embalming Sessions by Funerals for Life, where you get a death certificate and a Polaroid picture of yourself, after they have embalmed you of course. There is also a table selling merchandise such as Beanies, Hoodies, T-shirts, Leggings, purses and even soaps. There were some very tempting items and I shouldn’t be surprised if I head home one of these nights with a t-shirt or a Beanie.
The first show of the day was Feminine Inhuman which takes the form of a lecture by Reverend Matt about female monsters in folktales and mythologies throughout the world. Reverend Matt’s lecture is about seven different creatures: the Acheri, Qalupalik, Encantado, Banshee. Kuchisake-Onna, Harpy, and the Nightmare. The lectures are humorous and well delivered if a bit rushed, likely due to time constraints, by the writer of the piece Matthew Kessen. Each monster’s story is then accompanied by a dance sequence. This seems like an odd marriage, a humorous fo-lecture combined with dance sequences but it really works well. The dancing is top-notch, only in the first sequence did it seem like the synchronization was a bit off between the Acheri and her Shadow at times. This was one of my favorite productions of the day.
The second show of the day Geminae was a science fiction piece by Becky Wilkinson Hauser. It concerns an astronaut in orbit above earth who is losing oxygen and the mission control team who are trying to figure out how to save her. This shows highlights were the production design and performances. The astronaut Cassie played by Leslie Vincent is shown floating through space to check different areas of the ship from the outside. This is accomplished by the actress being supported and carried by Rob Ward who is listed in the program as The Void. This was a very creative and fun way to create the illusion of weightlessness. Dressed all in black so that he mostly blends into the background, I thought it a poor choice that he did not wear a black mask and gloves as that would have completed the illusion more effectively. But later The Void takes on another role, which perhaps explains that costume choice. On the other hand that other role, is also the weak point of the play. It’s unclear what that role is and the play ends without really explaining what The Void is. It would have been better to have Ward simply function as the tool for creating the illusion of weightlessness and find a more understandable resolution to the play. I wanted to give shout outs here to three actors that created very real feeling performances, Sean Dillon, Erik Nielsen and Gurayn Sylte. This play contained the best acting of the day, with those three being the standouts.
Third up was like the second show on a science fiction double feature. Charcoal Moon tells the story of two spaceships who have spent 6 years to reach a moon of a dwarf planet in our solar system to extract a mineral that can change the world. Something goes very wrong though and the ships crews find themselves at odds with each other. This is almost the reverse of Geminae. Whereas that show used a very low tech tool to create the illusion of zero gravity, this show relied heavily on video footage of messages between earth and the spaceships to illustrates it’s science, but both worked well with their stories. Their strengths and weaknesses were also swapped. Charcoal Moon had a much more satisfying script but the actors were not able to bring the same depth and realism to their roles. I think these contrasts reflect the differences in the plays themselves, whereas Geminae is more of a drama, Charcoal Moon is more of an action adventure piece. Charcoal Moon was written and directed by Duck Washington
Incarnate by Nissa Nordland Morgan was the best show of the day. From the moment we were let into the theater the discomfort began. They asked us to write our names on a piece of paper and put it in the basket to be considered for a part in the harvest. Everyone knows this is code for pulling you up on stage to be a part of the show. After that while you sit in your seats waiting for the show to start, people come around and thank you for coming and being a part of the Oasis. You never really get to relax from that point on. When the show starts you realize you are at a somewhat christian, somewhat pagan service. This is the show that gives Geminae a run for it’s money in the acting category. The standout here is Lauren Anderson who plays Marigold, the charismatic Herald of The Oasis which is basically a cult led by her and Caretaker Dan. Adding to the discomfort for me personally was the fact that within the schedules handed out when the doors opened was a program for the Oasis service. I didn’t take one as I didn’t realize there was a program inside the Festival schedule, which I already had a copy of. So the entire service I had to stand there pretending I knew what to say when it came time for the congregation to join it. I don’t want to give anything away but trust me this is not a show for the wee ones. There is a scene of nudity that seems odd and unnecessary, but that is really the only misstep in a powerful play, and it’s a minor one.
Bug Girl was the final show and lasted about 30 minutes. This was the most unusual production as it was a shadow puppet performance. I am not very familiar with Shadow puppetry and there were some really interesting elements to the show. It is a performance style that incorporates puppets and drawings with live action movement creating in effect a cartoon that is performed live. There are illustrations projected in coordination with other elements using overhead projectors onto three panels. There is a live performer wearing a mask that appears on the screens in silhouette and handheld puppets that are moved across the overhead projectors. I liked the technique quite a bit, there were some very striking visuals. The one issue I had was that it seemed to rest on that too much. The show established it’s visuals and then didn’t do much to raise the bar. It was the shortest show of the day but also the one that felt a bit long. The visuals went from striking to repetitive, once the style had been established very few new elements were added. It seems like a style of story telling where you should be figuring out ways to keep wowing the viewer with new techniques. Bug Girl is the creation of Liz Howls.
Tickets for the TCHF which runs through Sunday November 3rd as well as synopsis and content ratings for the shows can be found at http://www.tchorrorfestival.com/ .