Sketch comedy troupe The Tragedies made a bold transition this season, adopting the guise of the Grand Guignol, a famed French theater known for its shockingly graphic, perverse productions. Performed in a converted church, Theatre du Grand Guignol is an attempt to capture the sordid amalgam of sex and gore that so titillated Parisian audiences during the early 1900s.
It's an intriguing concept, and some aspects of its execution are flawless. From the tiki torches burning outside of the Little Church to Amoree Lovell's whimsical pre-show crooning, The Tragedies do a great job setting an otherworldly scene. The show is broken into four longish sketches, each from a different director, and each sketch is punctuated by sly little Punch and Judy shows, deftly directed by Miranda King. Costumes, make-up, and set look great, sound effects are quirky and clever, and there are some great performances from the large cast of Portland funny folk.
But god. This is a Halloween show. Halloween is arguably the most entertaining holiday, so why is this show so boring? The sketches are forced, one-joke affairs that each last about 30 minutes longer than they should. In one, two men cheat on their wives, only to be afflicted by incriminating post-coital tics. In another, a man pours acid on the face of his ex-girlfriend (to the accompaniment of a truly awesome sound effect: liquid sizzling in a hot pan, from a hot plate in the back of the room). It's a grisly moment, yes, but hardly worth the half hour it takes to get there.
Much is made of the fact that people sitting in the first two rows of the audience might get blood splattered on their clothes; but the blood, when it comes, is an underwhelming little spray. It's an apt analogy. The promise of sex and gore got my ass in a seat on a Friday night when there were tons of other shows in town I'm dying to see. Like everyone else in the audience that night, I wanted smutty, sophisticated, adult entertainment; I got middlebrow slapstick with a muddled artistic vision. Three hours of it, in a shitty plastic folding chair with bad sightlines. Nice try, and better luck next year.