27 Jul

Grand Guignol Revival: The Conspiracy of Three, a gory play of love and betrayal in one act

Posted by Bryan White | Friday July 27, 2012 | News

An Evening of Grand Guignol, Theatre of Terror by Matt TalbotI know, I know. It’s been fucking forever since I’ve updated this place. I have a shitload going on these days. A baby in the coming months, a script in production on an indie horror flick and I just wrapped up a run at The Player’s Ring theater in Portsmouth, New Hampshire with my co-production with John Herman of An Evening of Grand Guignol: Theatre of Terror.

John is a local creative dynamo and I’ve talked about him a bit in this place since he and I have worked together in the past on some shit and we’ve had a lot of fun. A little while back I did a sort of capsule review of Le Theatre du Grand Guignol, the famous Paris house of horrors which staged hundreds of sadistic and gory plays much to the delight of France’s bloodthirsty theater patrons. John has done a series of one-act plays in the past with his ‘Evening of Steampunk’ and ‘Evening of Apocalypse Theater’ productions at The Player’s Ring, both done for the benefit of charity. In the wake of my article on Grand Guignol, it occurred to me that we could probably pull off another one of these Evening of… shows in the style of the Grand Guignol. John pitched the show to The Player’s Ring who gave us the thumbs up, we presented it to the press and their patrons one evening and then he, our friend E. Christopher Clarke and myself got to work on our respective scripts.

The idea of this show was to recreate the style of the Grand Guignol and I feel that with a couple of creative liberties, we got it mostly right. Each one of us produced and directed (well, not me. Michael Ficara directed my script) our own works. Chris Clarke wrote a very unpleasant, heavily Poe-inspired tale called The Boot, which featured a woman passionately copulating with the soggy reanimated corpse of her husband’s father while her husband looked on, helplessly trapped under the spectral weight of his father’s severed foot. John Herman adapted a Grand Guignol original by Andre De Lorde, A Crime In A Madhouse, wherein a crazy woman is terrorized by a pair of loonies in a crazy house who believe that an owl lives in her head and the only way to let it out is to tear her eyes out and I wrote my own, The Conspiracy of Three, which I have attached here for your reading and should you feel so inclined, I’ve slapped a Creative Commons License on it so that you can use it to stage your own Grand Guignol evening at whatever venue happens to think it’s grand idea.

In The Conspiracy of Three, the adulterous wife of a drug-addled physician plots to murder her husband with her lover and take off to Barbados with his money. My original intent was to portray it very seriously but upon reading it and seeing it performed in rehearsals, it occurred to me that it was, in fact, completely ridiculous and the director ordered the cast to play it up with maximum camp. The results were hilarious and the audience ate up every minute of the show. Lovers, Henry and Claire were played as though they were in a 30′s farce with Claire practically drowning in melodrama and Henry acting as a living, breathing analog of Pepe Le Pew. Dr. Clouseau was portrayed as a completely oblivious fool with a sort of silver age of Hollywood forcefulness. Night after night, the audience laughed its ass off until things got bloody and then they started squirming in their seats (while laughing their asses off).

This was a very effects heavy show by comparison to the other two plays in the program and to achieve the effects, director Mike Ficara and I parted with cash money to buy some serious gear. We hired the services of The Shoggoth Assembly of Portland, Maine to create the prop razor, the prop eyeball and a silicone appliance to be worn by William O’Donnell for when Dr. Clouseau, played by Matthew Schofield, cuts him open and pulls back the skin to reveal the meat and bone beneath. When Claire, played by Constance Witman, has her throat slashed, I built a device that she wore beneath her costume that used a CO2 gun to pressurize a cannister made from 1.5″ PVC pipe (yes, it was kind of big) full of fake blood. The blood snaked up through some surgical tubing and out the notched end of the tube hidden just below her collar to achieve a sort of Kill Bill arterial spray effect that hit the audience sitting in our “splatter section”. Night after night, this thing worked like a charm and was a real crowd pleaser. I wish I had pictures but no one ever thought to take pics of the show as it was performed.

So yeah. This is what I’ve been up to of late. We had a lot of fun and made a few bucks in the process to donate to a number of local charities. If producing a play wasn’t such a titanic pain in the ass, I’d be all over it again right now. Seeing my show performed for a room full of people who were very clearly enjoying it had a very addictive effect. Next up for me is a short film production of the comic Rich Woodall and I did for Zombie Bomb, Volume 2: This Night I’ll Eat Your Flesh, as part of Mike Ficara’s anthology horror film, The End.

Feel free to download, read, redistribute and perform my play, The Conspiracy of Three, available under a Creative Commons License.

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