Reduxion Theatre Company is starting the revolution, and make no mistake, it will be bloody.
For its fifth anniversary season, the Oklahoma City company that specializes in revisiting the classics is adopting the theme “Reduxion Revolution.” In keeping with the imminent arrival of Halloween, the season will open this weekend with what is billed as Oklahoma City's first-ever Grand Guignol performances.
Reduxion's production of “Night of the Grand Guignol,” named after a French theater that gained underground fame for its live naturalistic horror shows in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is designed to thrill and challenge theater-goers with its realistic special effects, gory horror and titillating sensationalism.
“I just ran into it in school (at Columbia University) and I became fascinated with it, the idea that there was this style of theater that was really reminiscent of the old-time radio shows, sort of the Vincent Price, Edgar Allan Poe stories,” said Reduxion Artistic Director Tyler Woods.
“It was macabre and melodramatic and bloody and titillating and verboten basically. And everybody loved it. It was sort of Parisian back-alley type of deal that was just a style of theater that I hadn't really come across at that time ... and fascinating with the kind of contraptions that they had to make to make some of this stuff happen, doing things on stage like flaying people alive or setting someone on fire or gouging their eyes out. These things that you can see in movies these days, they're so commonplace. But they not only took a lot of work to figure out back in the day because they had to be done live onstage — you know, flaying someone alive is not an easy thing to do when you don't have a green screen — but also it was shocking.”
Although Le Theatre du Grand-Guignol (which translates to “The Theater of the Big Puppet”), the Parisian theater where the style originated, shuttered in mid-20th century, the Grand Guignol sensibility lives on in horror books and graphic novels, slasher movies, pulpy TV shows and other frightful forms of entertainment.
“Interestingly, the Nazis, when they took over, they really loved it, and they went to the Grand-Guignol a lot. And after the war, nobody really wanted to patronize it anymore. I think the last shows were in the late '50s and then it closed,” Woods said. “But there's a theater in San Francisco called the Thrillpeddlers who's been doing a lot of these things, and there's a London theater that just won an award for doing some of it. ... There's maybe a handful of theaters in the Western world that are doing this stuff right now, and we happen to be one of them.”
Along with performances at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday every weekend in October, Reduxion is planning a special midnight performance Oct. 27.
“I have a very strong affinity to the Halloween holiday,” said director Timothy Berg, who is also designing a Grand Guignol-themed float for the Oct. 27 Ghouls Gone Wild parade. “Doing Grand Guignol as a Halloween production is offering to an audience who, you know, during the month of October, you want to see a scary movie. You want to be surrounded by monsters. And let's admit it, some of the sexiest clothing that women are allowed to wear is a Halloween costume, and I've never heard anybody complain about it.”
Each “Night of the Grand Guignol” performance will include at least three 20- to 40-minute vignettes, with the yarns covering topics ranging from adultery and mental disorder to love and pain. The Friday night shows will include an extra vignette, Berg said, while the Saturday night shows will feature a burlesque number.
In addition, OKC Improv will add an interactive twist by performing preshow, intermission and post-show sets the first three Saturdays of October.
“They're doing improv based on Grand Guignol, which I think is really in the vein of Grand Guignol,” Woods said. “It took a lot of risks ... and that's one thing that we love that draws us back to doing these classics.”
The risqué and violent stories on Reduxion's “Night of Grand Guignol” slate include “Guillotine,” “The Final Kiss,” “Doing the Deed,” “Kiss of Blood” and Poe's “The System of Dr. Tarr and Mr. Feather.” The creative team has been forced to get innovative when it comes to recreating some of the stories' deadly moments live onstage in an intimate in-the-round theater.
“We want to revisit these conventions in such a way that it makes it fresh again ... but a lot of it is really one step removed from a magic trick, essentially,” Woods said. “To show how this kind of stuff would have been done with its original staging conditions, (we're) trying to use as many of the old-time contraptions, if you will, as possible.”
Let the bloody revolution begin.