BWW Review: Unbound Productions Rouses the Dead with WICKED LIT: THE CHIMES AND THE CORPSE
For eight of the last ten years, Wicked Lit has created theatre among the dead - quite literally - at Mountain View Mausoleum in Altadena. Three stories adapted from classic literature have been the norm most recently, with a fourth story functioning as a framing device to connect the pieces and bring a sense of camaraderie to the crowd. The result is an exceedingly entertaining evening of indoor-outdoor theatre in one of the spookiest venues in Southern California.
Each successive season has tried to one-up the last, in terms of story complexity, effects, and overall production values. Anyone who has attended a Wicked Lit performance will tell you it is one of the coolest things you can do to get you in the mood for Halloween.
This year, instead of going bigger they've scaled back their footprint. The evening consists of two plays instead of three: The Chimes: A Goblin Story, adapted by Jonathan Josephson from a short novel by Charles Dickens, and Teig O'Kane and the Corpse, adapted by Kerry Kazmierowicztrimm from a short story by Ernest Rhys, for a total running time of 75 minutes. The Chimes was originally part of Wicked Lit's 2010 and 2011 seasons. The Corpse is a world premiere.
They're presented twice a night and both take place inside the mausoleum rather than in the cemetery. That's a plus, given the erratic weather we've had of late, however, it also feels like the company's usual inventive style has been curtailed a bit in the process.
As in the past, the audience splits into two smaller groups each led by a charming Irish Storyguide (Meghan Lewis and Aaron McGee) who routes them to the locations where the plays will be performed. The Chimes takes place in the chapel and is the story of a young couple (Hope Lauren and Daniel Dorr) who seek her father's (Richard Large as Toby) blessing to marry but are instead shunned by him. It is essentially a New Year's Eve version of A Christmas Carol that reimagines the ghosts of Christmas Yet to Come as Goblins (Christopher Wallinger and Lamont Webb). These mischievous creatures gleefully escort Toby on a journey through a series of possible futures (all terrible and tragic) that await his daughter unless he has a change of heart.
Darin Anthony directed one of Wicked Lit's most intricate and exciting pieces last year - Thoth's Labyrinth - which also took place inside the mausoleum, but his staging of The Chimes is awkward. The first part of the story occurs in a walkway but audience members encouraged to stand along one side of it will miss what happens at the other end and pillars periodically block the view of those seated. Once the scene moves to the chapel pew area, the action switches from side to side and from the front of the pulpit to the back of the room requiring a 180 degree turn to be able to see the actors. The full use of space is admirable but not all audience members can twist their necks to that extent for minutes at a time without it becoming uncomfortable. Actors stalling to remember lines further expose the story's repetitious dialogue.
In The Corpse, a self-centered young man (Flynn Platt), consumed by the death of his mother, abandons his pregnant girlfriend (Kelley Pierre) and learns a lesson in compassion from a bewildered corpse (Kevin Dulude) unable to accept his own death. The situation is definitely odd and director Paul Millet makes good use of Dulude's bizarre comic abilities. Benches along the standing platforms would have helped sightlines for the coffin portion of the play as audience members were unclear where on the floor they could stand.
Kazmierowicztrimm's addition of a Coco-style lesson about the living forgetting the dead complicates an already convoluted story but, of the two, this piece comes closest to the kind of creativity found in past Wicked Lit productions. Millet and his design team have transformed Mountain View's art gallery into a fog-filled otherworldly forest where a terrifying Banshee (Tina Van Berckelaer) and a ghostly Widow (Bridgette Campbell) emerge from the shadows to dispense their warnings. Haunting sound effects enhance the eerie feel of the space giving it a sense of ominous uncertainty.
In between, Lewis and McGee offer detailed insight into the mausoleum itself, which was built by architect Cecil Bryan in the 1920s, including the history of the structure's 180 foot long, 5,000 square foot ceiling mural featuring 1,349 individual hand-painted portraits. The tone of this intermission-like gathering is in direct contrast to the plays themselves and, while interesting, it does feel counterintuitive to creating what has typically been a horror-filled, scarier event.
A modest pre-show display of costumes, props, and puppets provides opportunities for picture taking but the sense of community created over past years in the improvisatory preshow entertainment is missing. Still, the mausoleum is a gorgeous backdrop and well-worth a visit at night to experience Unbound Productions' theatre within its hallowed halls, even if this year's event comes with fewer bells and whistles. Rest assured, first timers and fans will have plenty to ooh and ah over.
WICKED LIT: THE CHIMES AND THE CORPSE
October 4-November 10, 2018
Mountain View Mausoleum and Cemetery
2300 N. Marengo Avenue, Altadena, CA 91001
Free parking on Alameda Street.
Wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to walk and stand.
Tickets: (323) 332-2065 or www.wickedlit.org
Lighting Designers: Darrell Clark and Hilda Kane
Sound Designers: Drew Dalzell and Noelle Hoffman
Costume Designer: Christine Cover Ferro
Set and Production Designer: Amanda Souter
Wigs & Makeup: Judi Lewin and Julie Pound
Special Effects: Joe Seely
Props: McKenzie R. Eckels
Movement Coach: Debbie McMahon
Photo credit: Daniel Kitayama