We could have written this review as soon as they started handing out plastic garbage bags to shield audience members from stray gouts of blood—hey, it worked for Titus Andronicus, and it works here—but maybe you discriminatin' aesthete types want a little more detail about this year's you-will-get-wet Hunger Artists Theatre holiday jamboree. Fair enough: generous eyeball-gouging, skull-crushing, gut-rupturing, esophagus-gnawing and Dusty-Springfield-karaoke-ing (scared yet?) aside, this latest installment of Madame Guignol's Macabre Theatre—titled The Seven Deadly Sins and themed accordingly—punches through the dead spots with exuberant energy and sheer gleeful goremongering. Edgar Allan Poe it ain't, but Roger Corman it ain't so far away from. Just sit back (far enough to avoid the blood geysers, maybe) and enjoy the ride. "Did you eat already?" they asked us when we arrived. "Because you're gonna throw it up!"
Well, we didn't—we're blessed with an exceptionally strong stomach, which is as helpful for watching people get disemboweled as it is for reviewing local theater productions, and we definitely put it through a workout with the Hunger Artists. Of course the special effects are admirably puke-inducing, but there are a few stretches of Sins when you'll just be begging for someone to take a steak knife to the face (note: psychological horror is more fun to watch when it involves someone's head exploding). As with any collective effort—North Korea, perhaps?—some things are going to work better than others, and the crazy-guy-ranting-alone-in-a-room stories don't click as well as, say, the crazy-guy-decapitating-bicycling-Mormon-missionaries stories. They're just not as easy to relate to, you know?
But really, when the guts start to rupture, it'll all seem worth it—even more so when it makes a few wuss-to-the-core patrons slink out mid-act, as it did the night we attended. Kimberly Fisher is nicely brassy as Elvira-style hostess Madame Guignol, and director Timothy C. Todd spares no opportunity for debasement as floor-licking manservant Maggot. Jami McCoy is as beautifully bitchy as ever, and while we miss Mark Palkoner's stalwart stage presence, new blood Chris Fowler and Jeff Marx seem just as willing to, say, hoochie-coochie with a deer head for a few sick laughs. Because it's all about the sick laughs: buried beneath the blood, the shock tactics and the sparkling dialogue ("Excuse me for a minute while I plagiarize Jesus Christ," for example), Sins is really just a lot of good (if not always clean) fun. And that's what Halloween's all about. Well, that and glorifying Satan, of course. But the Hunger Artists are probably way ahead of us on that one.
Madame Guignol's Macabre Theatre: The Seven Deadly Sins at the Hunger Artists Theatre Company, 204 E. Fourth St., Santa Ana, (714) 547-9100. Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; Mon.-Wed., 8:30 p.m. Through Oct. 31. $12; with reservation, $10.