In 1920s Grand Guignolproductions, audience members entered theaters stealthily, much as you would the Lusty Lady, and were sent atwitter by "shock plays" awash in blood, inventive killings, and ribald humor, sometimes clutching one another inappropriately as they were egged on by the risqué themes.
Eric Tyson Wertz and Mary Knoll in Shocktoberfest.
Plays Thursday through Saturday nights
at 8 through Nov. 13 (with Halloween
shows at midnight on Oct. 29 and 7:30
and 10:30 p.m. on Oct. 30 and 31)
Decades later, Russell Blackwood brought the genre back, forming the Thrillpeddlers theater troupe dedicated to staging original and modern Guignol. Although the title of Shocktoberfest 2005:"Sissies Stay Home!" contains a command that can be safely ignored (Hellraiser it ain't), there's bawdy wickedness and a good quart of fake blood in these satisfying short plays. Here, bar wenches writhe on the stage and receive proper spankings; Blackwood, dressed as a schoolboy, flogs himself while reciting an anonymous ode (reportedly from Algernon Charles Swinburne) concerning the pleasures of teacher-student flagellation; autoeroticism is taught, demonstrated, and almost completed in a classroom; and a man dies by hanging, causing his sizable wang to rise to the occasion, resulting in a rousing bout of post-consciousness copulation with a formerly chaste lady beset by a limp. But the night's real fake-blood extravaganza, A Slight Tingling, mocks the era's medical nutters, with various metals (dental fillings, bullets) and a lady's entombed penis (!) being ripped through flesh by "electro-magnetism." It will definitely turn your stomach, as will the sight of Blackwood covered in gore, wearing women's clothes, and hysterically killing everyone in sight. Capping the night is the Spook Show finale, an innocent lights-out operation with special effects on a par with a neighborhood haunted house -- you might not scream in horror, but you should rise to nostalgic giggling.
Special Halloween-weekend productions feature additional delights: the macabre parlor music of Jill Tracy & the Malcontent Orchestra, Thomas Truax and his odd instruments (such as the "Hornicator," a Victrola gramophone horn fixed with assorted add-ons), and mentalist Bob Taxin.