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Audacious Artefacts

Shocking Shenanigans

  • Hypnodrome
    575 10th Street, San Francisco, CA 94103-4829 (Map)
    415-248-1900

Hot. Cold. Hot. Cold. Hot. Cold. Like the waters of the ancient Roman baths, Thrillpeddlers’"Audacious Artefacts" douses its audience in alternating splashes of horror and sex, shocking the system. From 1897 until 1962, the Theatre du Grand Guignol in Paris confronted its audiences with horror plays designed to terrify interspersed with sex farces that provided comic relief from said terror. In this production, Thrillpeddlers brings to stage four short plays of the Parisian Grand Guignol that probe the depths of human depravity and sexuality, culminating in a downright dirty (yet hysterical) sex romp between two nuns and a very well-endowed gardener.

The show starts before one even enters the theater: just inside the door of the converted warehouse tucked under the highway, a gaunt, goateed man in black checks names from a list, the gatekeeper to this heart of darkness. Inside, high vaulted ceilings open up an otherwise small space and thrift store cast-offs turn the stage into a decrepit hotel room interior. Yet, before the real action begins, we get a short Red Cross playlet from 1946 announcing the advantages and contents of a well-stocked emergency first-aid kit. As odd as it seems, though, it effectively sets the tone for the rest of the evening, playing up the absurdity of the mid-twentieth century “fix everything with a splint” mentality and sexualizing the otherwise innocent schoolgirls in subtle ways.

The main body of the production consists of four short plays: “Private Room Number 6” (1907); “Tics, Or Doing The Deed” (1908); “The Head Hunters” (1958); and “The Discipline” (1788). Each of these plays presents an interesting look into the human psyche, one which is sometimes disturbing. “Private Room Number 6” is the story of a brutish, talkative Russian criminal (a former governor of Moscow played by Russell Blackwood) hiding out in Paris whose unspeakable past comes back to haunt him. It is his own blind desire to terrorize and dominate that ultimately leads to his downfall at the hands of a woman (the enchanting seductress, Lea, played by Kara Emry).

“Tics, Or Doing The Deed” provides a hilarious outlet for the tension created in the previous play: let’s just say the premise involves two couples, a butler, a maid, and a serious problem with various tics after sex (stuttering, leg shaking, barking…). The image of Madame Martin (Gina Seghi) trying to seduce the utterly oblivious Monsieur de Merliot (TJ Buswell) with the old “oh-dear-something-fell-down-the-back-of-my-dress” ruse is priceless.

Post-intermission, the action returns to the terror bent with “The Head Hunters,” taking up the popular theme of the young idealistic ethnologist (Jonathan Ingbretson) seeking to study an obscure headhunting tribe buried deep in the jungle and guided by a dangerous, machete-bearing ex-criminal (Eric Tyson Wertz). This Conrad-esque foray into the depths of human depravity reveals the lengths to which one will go in the face of death while at the same time providing a great B-movie quality of bizarre violence and fake blood.

At this point, please heed the Thrillpeddlers’ motto -- “Sissies Stay Home!” because the show closes with “The Discipline,” a rather disturbing yet hilarious play in which every man’s fantasy of horny nuns comes shockingly to life on stage. Sister Agnes (Kara Emry) and Sister Claire (Anna Vand) are desperately in need of the strict discipline provided the Mother Superior by the gardener, Blaise. Blaise, his knickers bulging, is only too happy to oblige them. Spanking ensues, along with other, more risqué exploits performed behind a sheet, with extremely amusing silhouettes clearly outlined against it. The action ends with an epic battle between a giant, glow-in-the dark penis and vulva, leaving the audience gasping for breath (most from laughing).

This must have been what it was like to attend the ancient Greek drama festivals -- a run of heavy themes inspiring fear and pity followed by lighthearted pokes at human sexuality that are truly cathartic. Thrillpeddlers puts on an immensely entertaining show that both revives the tradition of the Theatre du Grand Guignol and recreates the emotional flip-flop that made Greek drama a lasting art form. For an extra kick (and extra privacy), reserve a themed “Shockbox” for you and your date.

At the Thrillpeddlers’ Hypnodrome
Runs through May 2nd
Tickets:
General Admission- $15
“Shockbox” seating- $69/couple