Horror theatre is very hit or miss. When movie franchises like Saw can spend millions on their blood budget and create realistic gore, live horror seems pretty silly. Then, on the other hand, being physically hit at a live show with cow intestines would make for a pretty intense experience. Pandemic Collective manage to successfully hit the audience with cow intenstines – metaphorically speaking.
What Pandemic lacks in budget, they make up for in in wit and psychological punch. This time around, playwrights Dakota C. Hill and Jeff Garland fuel the collective’s A(Nother) Night of Grand Guignol with off-kilter humor and dark realism. Both writers identify as LGBTQ, adding another layer of insight and metaphor to their stories. Guignol theatre is the tradition of horror theatre, dating back to even before the time of film. Many modern horror plays rely on pure camp, believing that they need to make their performances over-the-top and slapstick in order to be appreciated. But good Guignol knows that the true way to inspire horror is in the deep recesses of the mind, and that is exactly what Pandemic Collective rely on.
The first performance of the two-play evening focuses on obsessions and taboo, giving viewers insight into a chat room on the Dark Net where would-be serial killers discuss what gets them off. The next deals with love new and old, and takes a look at an average love triangle, but with an unusual twist. While both plays deal with a lot of typical themes in horror or dramatic suspense, and don’t completely break new ground, they both take an interesting and unexpected turn, and it’s clear that they are both influenced by being queer.
The first story talks of extreme tabboo, the desire to eat the flesh of the ones we love. But it’s not a far cry to compare the feelings expressed by the main character to what LGBTQ people face when they consider coming out of the closet. The fact that queer people are made to feel like derranged deviants is an easy jump to make from the story’s content, but a powerful one, and the play also calls to mind questions about the boundaries between fetish, rollplay, and experimentation versus psychotic tendancies and mental illness.
The next feature delves into the numerous problems with believing that monogymous, heterosexual relationships are meant to be perfect and devoid of conflict. It takes the viewer through an old couple lamenting that the magic of their relationship is gone, while a new couple gets the joy of freshly discovering all of the things that are wrong with eachother. There are a lot of dark themes to unpack from this story, but it’s also a classic tale of reality versus the fairytale images that people in relationships dream up for one another.
While the performances are extremely low-budget, it doesn’t take a big leap of the imagination to fall into the stories. Good acting and writing, eerie lighting, and tense atmosphere help the plays to feel like short psychological horror dramas rather than awkward performance art pieces. Light refreshments are served between the acts, and alcohol is for sale before the show and during intermission.
Those who value good psychological horror and unconventional theatre will find joy in the Grand Guignol this month, and should make it a point to attend before the series’ short run ends. The performances will take place Thursday, August 10; Friday, August 11; and Saturday, August 12 at 8 p.m. All shows happen at The Bakery, a small playhouse in LoDo, 2132 Market St. Come out and show your support for DIY theatre, and make sure to follow Pandemic Collective for updates about their as-yet-unnanounced run of shows taking place in September.