Thursday, March 1, 2018

Faculty of Horror's Best of 2017

If you love horror film, and are not listening to the Faculty of Horror podcast, get ON it. Andrea Subissati and Alexandra West are smart and funny and provide a fascinating feminist take on horror film.

Check out Episode 58: A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste for a their picks of their favourite (they're Canadian!) horror and horror-adjacent films of 2017.

Since they talk fast and there isn't a movie list on their website, here's their list. Descriptions are from IMDB, of course.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Memory Box of the Sisters Fox and Facility (November 2017)

(Cross-posted from Minnesota Theater Love, 11/12/17)

Hurrah for Minnesota Fringe Festival remounts! More, please!

The Memory Box of the Sisters Fox, presented and created by The Winding Sheet Outfit and Facility, presented by Imagined Theatre both appeared on our Don't Miss Fringe 2017 list and are now showing at the Sabes JCC through November 19th.


The first act of this double feature is the fascinating and true story of the Fox Sisters, who accidentally founded the Spiritualism movement in the 1800s. From the moment you step up to the seating area set up right on the stage, and see the performance space encircled by empty picture frames and music boxes, and a mysterious black-veiled woman (Amber Bjork, also the director) arranging candles, the mood is so set.

This is an unbelievably gorgeous and thoroughly conceived show. The relationship between the sisters is authentic, rich and, at times, light and funny. The sisters are depicted in their youth by Boo Segersin and Kayla Dvorak Feld; Kristina Fjellman and Megan Campbell Lagas play their older versions. The interplay between both sets of sisters, and between the older and younger versions themselves is beautifully done.

Every element of this show works to perfection. The movement and the physicality of this small-set play, particularly in the scenes where the sisters are 'speaking' with the spirits and the seances, creates a gorgeous mood, and amazingly memorable imagery. The spare music, from the aforementioned music boxes, contributes to this mood, and the cast sings a gorgeous, five-part version of "In the Gloaming" that will give you chills. Even the spare, authentic costuming is perfectly done.

We can't say enough good things. Go see it. Bring your sister.

On to Facility... Interestingly, both of these plays could have easily fit into the Twin Cities Horror Festival--for wildly different reasons. Let's get into it.



We returned from a short intermission (spent admiring a fantastic art display of Scary Monsters--see above--by fourth graders) to a stage featuring little other than a hospital bed. After a blackout, the lights come up and we find Lionel (Paul Brissett) in bed receiving a visit from his wife Dorothy. His next visitor is nurse Jeff, who works for the care home in which Lionel is currently residing due to his dementia.

We see Lionel struggling with his memory and his helplessness, his daughter Rachel struggling with the decision to put Lionel in this facility, and administrator Fran and nurse Jeff struggle with staffing issues and all of them struggling with the incredible challenges that dementia can bring.

This show is harrowing. There's no other word for it. Directed and written by Phil Darg, this play brings up a lot of issues with no easy answers and depicts the challenges incredibly realistically. As hard as it was to watch--and if you have a loved one struggling with dementia or have lost someone to an unexpected illness, it will be incredibly hard--it's a valuable story to tell.

Paul Brissett gives an astonishing performance as Lionel. He inhabited this difficult role with utter and complete commitment and made you feel all of the love and the frustration that his caregivers feel for him. It's one of the most amazing performances I've seen all year, and landed immediately on my short list for the 2017 Twin Cities Theater Blogger Awards.

Public service announcement from Carol:

If you are caring for someone with dementia, there is help available. I work with an organization called Roseville Alzheimers & Dementia Community Action Team, which provides community information, programming and helpful resources at your local library for those with dementia and their caregivers. Check out their amazingly helpful website for more information.

I also highly recommend a couple of books:

A Caregiver's Guide to Dementia: Using Strategies to Prevent, Reduce and Manage Behavioral Symptoms by Laura Gitlin
This fairly slim and not remotely intimidating book helps caregivers find ways to manage the symptoms of dementia. Filled with incredibly simple and practical advice, this is a must-have for anyone working, caring for, or loving someone with dementia. SO highly recommended.

As Brackey says: "When people have short-term memory loss, their lives are made up of moments. We are not able to create perfectly wonderful days for people with dementia or Alzheimer's, but we can create perfectly wonderful moments, moments that put a smile on their faces and a twinkle in their eyes. Five minutes later, they will not remember what we did or said, but the feeling that we left them with will linger." Lionel's daughter Rachel really needs to read this book.

Public service announcement over. Thanks for listening.

(Cross-posted from Minnesota Theater Love.)

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Twin Cities Horror Festival VI: Why I LOVE TCHF and Review Roundup (October 2017)

(Cross-posted from Minnesota Theater Love, 10/31/17)

Wanna see something scary? 

One of the joys of seeing all twelve shows at the Twin Cities Horror Festival in one glorious weekend is that now I can see some again. And so can you!

The Twin Cities Horror Festival VI runs through November 5th at the Southern Theater and there is so much spooky theater goodness awaiting you. Below I've included links to our short takes on the shows we saw. Super props to the Twin Cities Horror Festival for being so inclusive with shows created by women and POC. Yay!

Quick, a quick rundown on why I love the TCHF:

Monday, February 5, 2018

Twin Cities Horror Festival V: Why I Love TCHF and Review Roundup (October 2016)

(Cross-posted from Minnesota Theater Love, 11/9/16)

I LOVE the Twin Cities Horror Festival, now in its fifth year and here's why:

- Manageable size (ten shows, plus a few one-night events)
- Runs a reasonable amount of time (October 27 through November 6, 2016)
- Only one theater (The Southern Theater)
- Which has a bar (with excellent beer)
- That theater space is appropriately atmospheric (plus, this year the lobby is beautifully decorated by Katie Hartman of The Coldharts)
Their website rocks: Simple, organized and featuring genres and ratings
- The staff and volunteers are welcoming, friendly and efficient

Oh, and I almost forgot: IT'S ALL ABOUT HORROR. I didn't think my favorite time of year could get any more favorite. Thanks, TCHF!

Our reviews so far for TCHF V (updated as they're added):

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Teenage Misery - Revisionary Theatre Collective (October 2016)

(Cross-posted from Minnesota Theater Love, 10/21/16)

There is nothing sadder to me than seeing a completely amazing show ... on its very last day. Teenage Misery, by Revisionary Theatre Collective, is one of those shows that I'd have loved to sing its praises to horror fans, musical fans, new work fans and pretty much everyone else.

But I have hopes that this amazing show will have a the long and fruitful life it deserves, Originally part of the 2013 Fringe Festival, Teenage Misery has book, music AND lyrics by Keith Hovis, who describes it as a "dark comedy musical that mashes up Bye, Bye, Birdie and Stephen King's Misery." Sold.

Teenage Misery, performed at the intimate Sandbox Theatre space (only 35 seats!), starts with college friends Carrie Black (Kelly Matthews), Whitney Fuller (Karissa Lade) and Harvey Kellerman (Jake Rahler) swearing their devotion to hot young singer Shane West (Ryan London Levin). When it turns out he's coming to town and meeting with his biggest fan, they contrive to win the contest in a most Stephen King way. From there, it goes downhill for nearly everyone. Equally avid Shane West fan and possible psychic Hannah Alloran (Whitney Rhodes) and her lumbersexual bf Richie Gibbs (Adam Rice) drive across the country to save Shane from his fans --

OMG, I just realized that Hannah Alloran's name is not just a reference to a Stephen King character, her character's end is eerily similar to the character's end in the film. There are so many delicious references in this show. I must have the cast recording. MUST.

Two things:

1) When this show started, and the cast started singing in this intimate space, I settled in with delight. There is NOTHING like being in amazingly close proximity to marvelously talented singers. No mikes, no distance, just you and the voices. And they are amazing, every single one of the six-person cast.

2) And not just that, the show is GOOD. I mean, really good. The lyrics are marvelously clever, the music is tuneful, the melodies are memorable, the arrangements are beautifully done. This show has legs, y'all. Mark my words.

Okay, a couple more things--and props to director Ari Koehnen:

1) The staging. There could not be a more challenging space than Sandbox's teensy storefront. With chairs on two sides, facing each other, with all of the action taking place in the center, it is astounding that the actors moved so beautifully and did so much in such a small space, even using the theater entrance to dramatic effect.

2) The tone is PERFECT. With horror comedy, tone is really challenging, but every member of this cast gets the tone perfect. They are utterly committed and sincere, which makes the plot and violence that much more absurd and funny. It reminded me of Minneapolis Musical Theatre's Silence: The Musical (also starring Ryan London Levin) from earlier this year. Ooh, and there's a wildly clever twist, performed perfectly.

I can't really say more except that it's a talented, committed cast performing a hilarious, clever and tuneful show and I really hope to see it again. And if there's a Kickstarter to record a cast album, I'm IN.

Want to know more? Check out Teenage Misery's fabulous Facebook page. In particular, I loved their Easter Egg series of photos explaining all of the references. And trust me, these references go deep.

(Cross-posted from Minnesota Theater Love.)

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Basement Creatures - In the Heart of the Beast (March 2016)

(Cross-posted from Minnesota Theater Love, 3/17/16)

Enormously strange and utterly original, Basement Creatures at the In the Heart of the Beast Theater (HOBT) left me nearly speechless. 

Summing it up is incredibly difficult, so I'll let the madly skilled folks at HOBT tell you what it is (and it runs through March 26, btw):
"This wildly original rock opera follows the journey of a subterranean explorer, featuring a stellar live band, haunting choral voices, aerial dance, and puppetry peculiarities from the underworld. Emerging from the sold-out run of performances in Puppet Lab 2015, this expanded production includes your favorite singing centipedes and lonely bedbugs, along with all new monsters from under your bed."
2015 production photo by Bruce Silcox
So let's start at the very beginning.

As you enter the theater, mysterious masked figures offer you a glowing "elixir of life." Sipping the elixir, you mill about the area customarily used as seating but now housing the art exhibit "A New Twist on the Old Testament Part II" by Samuel Robertson. Shielding the stage is a large white curtain, with mysterious sounds emitting from behind it. Finally, the gong is sounded and the ushers beckon you onto the stage. Taking a seat on the risers, you settle in.

The lights go down, the band begins and chains rattle as a dark-clad, silent 'explorer' climbs the chains in a lovely aerial dance and descends into 'the basement.' Here she meets (in song!) centipedes, bedbugs, silk spiders, professors and organ surgeons, all depicted by a talented cast of aerialists, musicians, puppeteers, and projectionists. And, of course, she meets the mysterious "basement dweller."

Basement Creatures was created by Lead Artist (and "Basement Dweller") Davey T Steinman, who was inspired by his own childhood and home basements, as well as the "waiting darkness" of Minnesota winters. The show started at the HOBT Puppet Lab fellowship, and an abridged version was produced by HOBT last year. This version is revised and expanded from the original.
2015 production photo by Bruce Silcox

As someone who loves musicals and all things spooky, I was all about this show, but had no idea what to actually expect. It's far more rocking than I expected (even though it's described as a rock opera--I've seen too many musicals purporting to be rock operas to trust the term) and far more abstract as well. But when the bedbug started singing "Lonely Bedbug," I was in, and during "Gates of Hell", I was ready to buy the CD. (Which I did, and it's going to add considerably to my Halloween music collection.)

What else? The aerial work is amazing, the puppets are wonderfully creative, and the lighting and projections work beautifully together with the music to create an incredibly original, yet dream-like experience. The show also features the work of Artemis, a vocal ensemble with gorgeous harmonies (playing the part of the pipe organ). Although there was so much of the show that I loved, there were a few bits I just didn't get. In some ways, it still feels a bit like a work in progress, but a fascinating one with even more amazing potential.

And I love that I have a whole new list of talented performers to keep an eye out for in local theater. For one, I'm very curious to see what projections Davey T Steinman comes up with for Carson Kreitzer's Lasso of Truth, an upcoming Workhaus Collective/Walking Shadow Theatre Company production starting April 15 at the Playwrights' Center.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Silence! The Musical - Minneapolis Musical Theater at the Lab (February 2016)

(Cross-posted from Minnesota Theater Love, 2/14/16)

Silence! The Musical (showing now through March 6 at the Lab Theater) is almost definitely the best parody musical based on a horror film that you'll see this year. 

Released in 1991, The Silence of the Lambs won five Oscars and scared the hell out of millions of people. Now that it's an indelible part of pop culture, why not make it a musical? And I can't think of a better local theater than Minneapolis Musical Theatre (and Steven Meerdink's Bitter Boy Productions) to take on this show.

You know the story: FBI fledgling Clarice Starling is sought out to interview famed serial killer Hannibal Lecter in order to find yet another serial killer. Although much of the original movie's script has become go-to pop culture punchlines (liver with fava beans and Chianti, it puts the lotion in the basket, ffffffftttttt) the movie is still genuinely disturbing.

Hannibal Lecter (Tim Kuehl) watches as Clarice
Starling (Emily Jabas) admires his artwork. 
(photos: Unser Imagery) 
So how can this possibly be a hilarious musical? (Which it IS.) Well, it starts off with a fabulously witty book by Hunter Bell, and music and lyrics by Jon & Al Kaplan that manage to be truthful to the source material and tuneful, while hilarious and shocking at the same time.

And then, if you're Minneapolis Musical Theatre, which specialize in musicals rarely seen by Twin Cities audiences (their tagline is "Rare Musicals. Well Done."), you give it 112%. Every member of the cast performs with utter commitment and director Steven Meerdink creates the perfect tone.

The cast hits every joke in the script perfectly, and finds a few laughs that probably aren't in the script, yet never ever milks a joke. The show also has musical theater references that theater fans will love to pick out. You'll note references to Bob Fosse's choreography, Will Rogers FolliesEvitaCats, and the King and I. These nods add an additional layer of fun to an already hilarious show.
Clarice Starling gets her Fosse on with the chorus of lambs.
Did we not mention the chorus of lambs?
The cast is spot on, referencing the actors' work in the film, but bringing it slightly over the edge in a hysterical way. From the moment that Emily Jabas sprints (slowly) on stage as Clarice Shtarling, you know it's going to be good. Tim Kuehl as Hannibal Lecter gives a delightful blend of menace and confusion, despite acting mostly behind glass and a mask. Alice McGlave gives a great boost to the thankless role of Ardelia (one of film's first black best friends), and Jordan Oxborough was a perfectly insane Dr. Chilton.

My personal favorite performance was by Ryan London Levin as Buffalo Bill. Originally played by Ted Levine in a balls-out, Gene Loves Jezebel-dancing, putting-the-lotion-in-the-basket, Precious-loving performance, Buffalo Bill is one of the most vivid characters in horror. Starting with his first song, "Are You About a Size 14?", Levin gives everything he has to this character and hits it perfectly. He gets Levine's (Levine/Levin/WHAT?) weird mumbly voice perfectly right, and actually has a fantastic singing voice. The entire chorus, including Gregory Adam (so good in MMT's Eating Raoul) and Daniel Lundin (excellent in this season's Murder Ballad) give amazing performances in a variety of roles.

The show is at the Lab Theater, which I hope Minneapolis Musical Theatre can use for future shows. The warm and inviting--but bare bones and industrial--space is perfect for a show like this. The beautifully constructed set by Darren Hensel made perfect use of the space, and the props by Valerie Larche lend a realistic (yet over-the-top) tone to the production.

Starling and Lecter face off  through the high-security window.
By the way, if you are faint of heart and delicate, you may be shocked by some of the material in the show. Hannibal Lecter's first song (of which the Washington Post said the title was too dirty to even hint at) uses a word that is rarely used on the American stage or in film. Hint: It starts with "If I Could Smell Her", and references a line by Multiple Miggs. That's all I'm giving you. But I you pass up this fabulous, hysterical show because of that, well, I would be sad. Go see this fun show!

PS: Every program received a postcard to help promote the show with a 20% off discount code. I don't feel right posting the code, but you could always mention you read about the discount in this review from us and maybe the box office will give it to you. Or check MMT's Facebook page for deals.

(co-written by KRL, Carly and Jules)

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Why I Love the Twin Cities Horror Festival (IV) (October 2015)

(Cross-posted from Minnesota Theater Love, 10/25/15)

I heart the Twin Cities Horror Fest, now in its fourth year. Here's why (not in order of importance):

- It's a manageable size (twelve shows this year)
- It runs a reasonable amount of time (October 22 through November 1, 2015)

- It's at only one theater (The Southern Theater)
- And that theater is appropriately spooky
- And it has a bar

Their website rocks: Simple, clean and clear with descriptions, schedules by day and by show, and useful genres and ratings
- The staff and volunteers are marvelously organized, friendly and efficient

- The theater is located near a number of excellent restaurants and bars (Town Hall BreweryRepublicJewel of India and many more)

Oh, and I almost forgot: IT'S ALL SCARY!

For a horror and theater fan, who often has to content herself with the occasional Martin McDonough and Conor McPherson production, to have a whole festival devoted to spooky theater, during the best holiday season ever is fabulous. Thank you, TCHF!

Reviews so far (updated as they're added):

Mortem Capiendum - Four Humors
The Deep Dark - Oncoming Productions
The Trail - The Importance of Being Fotis
Epidemic - Dangerous Productions
Short Film Festival - Horrorshow Hot Dog
Martina's Broadway Horror Cabaret - Silver Slipper Productions

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

My Best Friend's Exorcism by Grady Hendrix (2016)

In 1988, Abby and Gretchen are in high school and are best friends. After a experiment with LSD after which Gretchen goes missing for an evening, Gretchen comes back and seems very different and very wrong. Abby tries to figure out what is wrong with her friend, and tries to get help from family, friends and other grownups, to no avail. 

As the dust jacket says, "Is their friendship powerful enough to beat the devil?" Filled with pop culture references that will delight readers of a certain age (my age, btw), this is also a great horror novel and a great novel about friendship. It's an unexpected combination that works beautifully.

Surprisingly insightful into the minds of teenage girls and all the trials and tribulations of friendship and of being a teen. It also has a yearbook design motif (probably used since Hendrix's Horrorstor used the IKEA catalog so effectively), which is a bit superfluous in this novel. Nonetheless, Hendrix powerfully captures just how powerless you are when you're a teen.

I adored this:
"Abby Rivers and Gretchen Lang were best friends, on and off, for seventy-five years, and there aren't many people who can say that. They weren't perfect. They didn't always get along. They screwed up. They acted like assholes. They fought, they fell out, they patched things up, they drove each other crazy, and they didn't make it to Halley's Comet. But they tried."

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo (2013)

You MUST read this book.

I hear about books from a lot of sources. Blogs, friends, reviews, whatever. And then there's the books that I just run across in the library catalog while looking for something else. Which is to say, I have NO idea how I found this book. But I'm so glad I did!

Set in colonial Mayala, among the Chinese who reside there, the story is about Li Lin, a young woman of marriageable age who lives with her opium-addicted father and her beloved Amah. Despite the loss of her mother at a young age, all is pretty much satisfactory until she receives a marriage proposal from Lim Tian Ching, the son of an influential neighbor. A promising engagement with one small detail: Lim Tian Ching is dead and the proposal is for Li Lin to be his ghost bride.

Lim Tian Ching begins to haunt Li Lin in her dreams, and she is quickly drawn into a dark world of murder, hungry ghosts and restless spirits. She also falls in love with Tian Bai, the new (live) heir to the family. Li Lin ventures into the Chinese afterlife, travelling to the Plains of the Dead on an errand for the mysterious Er Lang, a man who may not be what he seems.

Choo creates a marvelously rich and detailed world of the dead: paper funeral offerings and hell money, afterworld bureaucracy and the shifting corporeal nature of ghosts. This novel is utterly original and impossible to slot in a particular genre. It's historical fiction with elements of fantasy, wonderfully suspenseful and spooky with more than a touch of romance. It's also just beautifully, vividly and cinematically written. Much of the book's world is based on Chinese folklore, and Choo's notes section outlines the original stories as well as her own creations. CRIPES, this is a good book.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Uninvited by Cat Winters (2015)

This historical novel is set during WWI and the influenza epidemic. Ivy has recently recovered from a bout of the flu, and is finding the world has changed radically since she took to her bed. Not only is she dealing with the loss of family members, she still has her lifelong ability to see ghosts.

She struggles with the overzealous American Protection League and her feelings for a German living in her town while taking on the job of driving a Red Cross ambulance. And did I mention she see ghosts? So very lovely and romantic.

See also the romantic ghost stories of Simone St. James.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Day Four by Sarah Lotz (2015)

Chilling horror(ish) tale about a cruise that goes terribly wrong. The ship stops moving, the plumbing stops functioning, the power is sporadic and all goes to heck. But is there something more than simply ship malfunction at fault? 

A racially and culturally diverse cast of characters include a famous psychic, the blogger determined to debunk her work, two old ladies determined to end it all on the ship, and the cruise ship employees with their own mega-dramas. Suspenseful, atmospheric and beautifully constructed.

Day Four reminded me of Stephen King (high praise), particularly his novels that focus on humanity's last stand such as The Stand and The Mist. Great summer fun that will make you want to never, ever take a cruise.

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Voices by F.R. Tallis (2014)

Really interesting haunted house novel, set in the 1970s in London, about a composer, his wife, and their young daughter, who move to a stately home in Hampstead Heath where they start to hear mysterious voices. 

The wife hears them through the baby monitor, he picks up voices through his recording equipment. This starts them on a mysterious journey of finding out who may have lived in the house and where the voices came from. 

It's hard to say anything else without spoiling the mystery, so I'm not going to. Quite suspenseful and chilling, and extremely atmospheric. Surprising and haunting.