Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Shocktoberfest 13, by the Thrillpeddlers

(Bonni Suval, Bruna Palmiero, Flynn DeMarco, and Nancy French at someone's very special day. Photo by David Allen.)

Don't get me wrong. I love the Thrillpeddlers. I always look forward to their shows -- I've seen all but one in the past two years, which I can only say about one other company -- and I meant everything I said in my review of their Shocktoberfest 13: The Bride of Death.

But I had a hard time writing this review because I felt like I'd already said everything I have to say about the company. They always do excellent work, but it's always the same kind of work: grotesque and erotic. It's uninhibitedly showy but unpretentious, what some might call smut and others might just call a welcome relief from high art. Yes, their sources change: sometimes they draw from Theatre du Grand Guignol; sometimes it's noir; sometimes it's from the 1970s gender-bending troupe the Cockettes; sometimes it's a contemporary work. But the aesthetic is always the same: over-the-top mugging, preposterous costumes, lakes of fake blood or some other body fluid, silly song-and-dance numbers. And on the few occasions when a Thrillpeddlers production is not in a variety show format, then the plot is so nonsensical it might as well be.

The one exception to this rule was this summer's Marat/Sade -- the Peter Weiss play that's one of theater history's finest dramatizations of the revolutionary spirit. It's heady, it's complex, and the Thrillpeddlers brought just the right touch to make the production accessible.

On the whole, though, if you've seen one Thrillpeddlers show, you've seen 'em all. The company, under the direction of Russell Blackwood, will always find a way to kill someone that you never would have thought of. But from production to production, it's only those small choices that vary.

From an average audience member's standpoint, this isn't a bad quality at all. In fact, it's all too rare. At which other theaters do you always know what you'll be paying for and that you'll get your money's worth? The Thrillpeddlers have one of the clearest missions in town; they don't change who they are or artificially push themselves in a new direction just to grasp for grant money.

Yet from a critic's standpoint, it can be tough to find new things to say about them. As I was writing this review, I kept wondering if I'd used certain words and phrases to describe the company too many times before. I had all my other articles at the ready and liberally used my thesaurus, but the review still betrays dispassion. Maybe I simply didn't watch the show closely enough. Maybe I need a break from the company. Either way, for a critic, it's not enough to love a company; you have to make your writing radiate your love.

Shocktoberfest 13: The Bride of Death continues through Nov. 17; info here.