Twin Cities Horror Festival XII: Three Reviews From The Opening Night. Marie Jeanne Valet…., Girls in Bins, and Choices.
Last night was the opening of the 12th annual Twin Cities Horror Festival (TCHF) at the Crane Theater in Northeast Minneapolis. The Festival launched not with a wimper but a scream! Without going back and looking at all of my previous reviews from prior years, my guess is this was the strongest single day block of shows I’ve seen in the Festival. Before I dive into my reviews of opening night let me orientate those of you who have never been. TCHF is like a mini genre focused Fringe Festival, with a new show beginning every 90 minutes. Each show runs one hour or less, in between shows the previous show has 10 minutes to strike their show, then the upcoming show has 10 minutes to set theirs up with the final 10 minutes for seating the audience. The great thing TCHF has over the MN Fringe Festival is that it’s easy to see every show, whereas it’s actually impossible to see even half of the Fringe shows. The Festival runs 11 days from October 19th to the 29th and there are 11 shows each of which is performed five times. My recommendation is to try and allow yourself time to see two or more shows on any given visit. My second recommendation is to purchase your tickets ahead of time. On opening night the shows had very few open seats and there was already one sold out performance and I know there is already at least one sold out for night two as well. For More information check out the Festivals website at https://www.tchorrorfestival.com/ to purchase tickets go to https://tix.gobo.show/festival/tchfxii
Marie-Jeanne Valet, Who Defeated La Bete du Gévaudan produced by The Winding Sheet Outfit is the show to try and top at this years festival and that will be a tall order I assure you. Based on historical myth/fact? it tells the story of the monstrous red wolf or wolf-like creature that terrorized the village of Gévaudan in France during the year 1764. The story is told by four versatile actors Megan Campbell Lagas, Peyton McCandless, Derek Lee Miller, and Allison Vincent with all playing multiple roles. Vincent, who seems to be everywhere these days including two shows in the TCHF (the other is Rasputin), is particularly strong, with a turn as King Louis XV that nearly steals the show. The company uses a mixture of techniques including several sequences using Shadow Puppets to recount some of the deaths caused by La Bete all of which is hauntingly accompanied on multiple musical instruments by Director Amber Bjork. On a strong night, this is hands down my recommendation if you could only make it to one of the three shows I’ve seen so far. Its perfect balance of drama, humor, creativity, and yes horror result in an overall artistic triumph of a production.
Girls in Bins by Rachel Teagle has as one of its central elements a true crime podcast called Murder Bitches which is modeled after real life podcasts like My Favorite Murder. While the audience was laughing at some of the podcast moments, having been exposed to a few episodes of My Favorite Murder, I can tell you it was surprisingly accurate recreation only slightly heightened for comedic effect. Murder Bitches is the preferred audio accompaniment for Ruth a pregnant woman who due to a high risk pregnancy is unable to do anything but stay home and take it easy. Ruth is restless in her new home, waiting for the truck to arrive with all of their possessions and furniture. The only thing that has arrived are the black and yellow storage bins her husband was able to bring with in his trailer when they moved across the country to Connecticut. While her husband John Michael and friend Yvette try and keep her comfortable and distracted, Ruth seems to be doing a fair amount of her own self distraction as more and more clues to a dark secret keep popping up. The show makes good use of the Podcast audio bits and is well acted by Suzanne Victoria Cross as Yvette, Ben Tallen as John Michael, and especially by Siri Hellerman as Ruth. It’s a tight little tale of serial killers mixed with a consideration of the existential nature of pregnancy and genetics. The only criticism is that plot wise we are way ahead of the characters for most of the play.
Choices by Tyler Olsen-Highness is produced by Dangerous Productions, if you’ve ever been to the TCHF and seen a drop cloth on the floor of the stage, there’s a good chance you saw a Dangerous Productions show. Known for their penchant for the blood and guts approach to horror, they are masters of the stagecraft of gruesomeness. But their expertise isn’t limited to moments of violence and blood, they also have a forte for the art of distraction and misdirection. They masterfully use light and the absence of light to create scares and rachet up the feelings of dread and suspense. The story centers around a surprise birthday party for John, planned by his partner Greg and sister Jean. When Jean and his friends arrive at the cabin they find the very surprised and nervous acting John alone in the windowless cabin where the generator is always on the fritz. The title comes from a party game they play where one player is asked to make a choice, drinking ensues. Throughout we get flashbacks to John and Greg’s relationship slowly revealing why John is so anxious and why Greg isn’t there. Add loud knocks on the cabin door and Johns insistence that they are not outside once it gets dark and we find ourselves on the edge of our seats not knowing what will come next. The only thing for certain, given the drop cloth on the floor, there will be blood. If blood and gore is not your thing, this is one to skip, if you are OK with that, this is the show that most resembles what we think of as modern horror. The cast is fully committed, Leif Jurgensen as John is very effective at portraying a man barely holding onto his sanity as things keep coming at him. Laura Mahler takes no prisoners as Jean the off the hook, bombastic party girl sister. Dangerous Productions comes through with what most audiences at TCHF are looking for, in your face straight on horror that’s effective at creating the scares both emotionally and technically.
For some behind the scenes information about the TCHF listen to season 2 episode 5 of the Twin cities Theater Chat podcast https://twincitiestheaterchat.buzzsprout.com/2150807/13763195
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