There is one positive in turning an ancient ritual of remembrance and rebirth into an ejaculation of consumerism second only to the monstrosity that looms 55 days later: its broad appeal. Because Halloween is celebrated by so many for numerous reasons—kids and candy, teens and stealing kids’ candy, Evangelicals and their hell houses—you can basically throw anything into October, and it feels Halloweeny.
Which is what we’ve done this week. Besides opening in October, there’s no real connection between The Vandal, Silence! The Musical and The Twilight Zone. Each, in its own way, uses the bizarre and unexplainable to remind us that the truly frightening things don’t howl or haunt in the night, but are buried within—and don’t need much of a jolt to be reanimated.
There isn’t a monster, per se, in Hamish Linklater’s engaging, compassionate dark comedy The Vandal. But Linklater, a stage and screen actor of no small repute, does set his three-character play in a graveyard and, far creepier, a public bus stop. But there are ghosts in this piece-—those of lost spouses and parents who never materialize, but are never too far way. And thanks to crisp direction by Kari Hayter and three standout performances, we see the cumulative weight of those ghosts, or memories, upon the central characters.
The script meanders at times, ideas don’t add up to much, and you could make a good case that the play’s twist seems forced. But something is needed for a spark to ignite between two terribly lonely people, even if that spark means letting go of the only thing keeping you warm.
There are plenty of monsters in Silence! The Musical, and you can start with the show’s creators, Jon and Al Kaplan and Hunter Bell. They’re not monsters because their play, a raunchy send-up of the 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs, won the 2005 New York City Fringe Festival and has built up a cult following since. But rather it’s because one of the songs, Hannibal Lecter’s introductory tune, has the word cunt in the title, and now there is one less Mt. Everest to climb for the rest of us.
The show is a goofy, offensive parody of the film, theatrical convention and lead actress Jodie Foster’s subsequent career. The more familiar you are with the film, the more in-jokes you’ll get—but even if you just know the basics, you’ll be fine: imprisoned serial killer gets into FBI agent’s head; some other killer is out there skinning women; and there’s fava beans, cannibalism, a moth and something about lambs.
Director Jack Millis’ production is graced by one of OC’s finest performers, Kalinda Gray, as Agent Starling, while Owen Lovejoy’s Lecter is also gold. Patrick J. Nunez’s Buffalo Bill has a great look and voice, but he seems a little tentative, especially for an actor who spends most of the time prancing around the stage in a negligee and repeating to anyone within earshot how much he’d like to fuck himself. The ensemble, including the two-person band, is solid, but things do feel a bit bunched together when everyone is onstage. That’s not because of Jackie Melbon’s interesting choreography, which may be the best thing (next to the song with cunt in the title) in a show that is absolutely jaw-dropping at some points and entertaining in many, but one that I’m not sure is really all that funny (but I’d love to see how the bluehairs at the Sunday matinee eat it up).
Speaking of eating, running in repertory with Silence! is Twilight Zone. Now in its 10th year, these are staged versions of the legendary TV show; they are as close to those filmed episodes as they could be in a live-theater performance. I know what YouTube is, and I’ve never really gotten the appeal of watching film performed live and vice versa, but a very good friend has directed or co-directed this every year, and let’s just say hell hath no fury . . . I wasn’t planning on writing about it, but when I saw “The Shelter” was the second of this year’s three chosen episodes, I knew I had to go. The best Zones didn’t need aliens, or gizmos that told time, or anything supernatural or otherworldly; they just needed humans—the more decent at first, the better. And the characters in “The Shelter,” who have gathered at the town doctor’s house on his birthday, seem as decent as they come. Until a threat presents itself. And all rationality and dignity is subsumed by animalistic frenzy and desperate self-interest. This is where the real monsters are. Inside every human breast. And maybe the battle between keeping them at bay, or unleashing them, is the central conflict in the drama called human existence. Maybe we could call it cunt?
The Vandal at the Chance Theater, 5522 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, (888) 455-4212; chancetheater.com. Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 3 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. Through Oct. 27. $20-$39.
Silence! The Musical and The Twilight Zone at STAGEStheatre, 400 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton; stagesoc.org. Silence! The Musical: Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m., Sun., 2 p.m. Through Nov. 10. $30-$32; The Twilight Zone: Fri., 11 p.m.; Sat., 5 p.m.; Sun., 5:30 p.m. Through Nov. 9. $22-$24.
Joel Beers has written about theater and other stuff for this infernal rag since its very first issue in, when was that again???