Published on October 14th, 2012 | by Jessica Mickey and Ballard Lesemann0
Frightmare on King Street: PURE Hosts Dead of the Night
On Friday evening (Oct. 12), Theatre Marvelosa opened its Halloween-themed rock opera Dead of the Night, directed by Gus Smythe, as a benefit for PURE Theatre. The run is timely, lining up with the relevant season. It is clearly an ambitious endeavor; however, the show probably could’ve used more time to tweak its presentation before unleashing this flashy beast to the masses.
A headless host greeted the audience as musical director/guitarist Lee Barbour, drummer Jack Burg, bassist Jonathan Gray, and keyboardist Rodderick Simmons took their places on a small side stage. It was clear that the production was bringing something to the table not usually experienced by most Charleston audiences. All four musicians donned matching mohawk wigs that changed throughout the night. They were the workhorse of the production — a ghoulish quartet providing hauntingly atmospheric transitions between several renditions of familiar spooky songs.
Dead of the Night follows the Mad Poet of Leicester Square, who remains seated at a bistro table throughout, as he descends into an absinthe-fueled madness, which inspires a loosely connected montage of cover songs and dance numbers. As the creatures he conjures with his endless scribbling appear to take over his mind, it seems that drug-induced fantastical disconnection plays the principal role, matching content with context. Though all the sequences fluttered around the gothic and macabre, the tone was inconsistent, leaving the audience to constantly ponder what exactly was happening.
The biggest flaw came from debilitating PA issues. When the microphones were actually working, the volume levels jumped to extremes. They were either too loud and distorted or too quiet and muffled. Many of the lyrics and dialogue were inaudible, and as a result, it was nearly impossible to understand the story. As we recognized many of the songs, such as Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “Put a Spell on You,” the Strangeloves’ “I Want Candy,” and the Crazy World of Arthur Brown’s “Fire,” it was unclear if the production included any original music. When things seemed to get off track, however, Barbour and his bandmates instinctively created cinematic sound effects. When one actor’s microphone failed to work entirely, the band accommodated the scene with an impressively super-low volume.
To the director’s credit, the sizeable cast of 22 worked well as a team. The effort they put into blocking and choreography was effective, helping to make the transitions fluid, even if the story and tone wasn’t. We recognized a couple of the cast members, but unfortunately, the program didn’t identify who played which roles.
The real stars of this rock opera were the flamboyant costumes, designed by writer Willi Jones. In fact, the production worked mostly as a vehicle for the ornate outfits. And many of them, from head-to-toe, were quite beautiful, extravagant, and carefully designed. Some of the costumes of the more ghoulish creatures looked like they came straight from the seasonal Spirit of Halloween pop-up shop, but most we’re simply to die for.
Though the production was disjointed as a whole, there were some truly striking and compelling moments, complemented by strong visual effects. A particularly beautiful sequence involved a sugar-skull pope singing “Nothin’” by Townes Van Zandt, surrounded by a small elaborately costumed Day of the Dead procession. Every time a truly spooky mood took control of the room, the next scene would detour into the opposite direction, leaving the audience dizzy.
If you dare venture into Dead of the Night, brace yourself. Enjoy the ride, take in the visuals, and don’t question too much. Much like a session with a bottle of absinthe, prepare yourself for some amusingly grim delirium.
PURE Theatre hosts Dead of the Night on Oct. 19. Oct. 20, Oct. 26, Oct. 27, and Oct. 31 at 8 p.m. General admission is $25. Visit puretheatre.org for more info.
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