If you happen to make it down to the Nightingale Theater any Friday or Saturday of this month, prepare to be freaked out--even more so than usual. Nightingale's in-house writers collective, 50 Swats, opened its annual Halloween show Old Fashioned Poison Candy the first weekend in October, and this reviewer saw the show last Saturday night.
Looking back, I'm not quite sure what I was thinking. I hate being scared. I hate scary movies, I hate ghost stories, I hate any haunted attraction you tour at nighttime.
For some reason, though, I wasn't thinking of this show as something scary. I didn't see it last year (another writer reviewed it), and even though I've seen nearly everything else 50 Swats has done in the last year and a half or so, I suppose I still went in not knowing what to expect.
When I entered the dark theater, the first thing I saw was a large pentagram drawn out on the floor in masking tape, with candles burning at each of the five corners and a wooden chair in the middle. I wanted to leave right then. It sort of reminded me, "This is a Halloween show, after all, and it's bound to be a little creepy."
Nearly everything at Nightingale is a little creepy, but I had a feeling this would be different.
This is the fourth year 50 Swats has entertained its ghoulish side with this show, and, it's actually the first big project that really got 50 Swats off the ground.
Like every 50 Swats production, the writers are notified secretly of the theme and mission of the show and given a deadline before which they must produce some sort of written contribution, either a monologue, dialogue, song, poetic rambling, whatever.
Then, the collective as a whole decides which pieces and in what order they will be performed, and members of the Old Crow Players, the core group of actors working in the Nightingale, audition and perform the roles.
Old Fashioned Poison Candy is "deeply rooted in John (Cruncleton)'s bizarre and inexplicable fascination with Halloween," Nightingale co-owner Amber Whitlatch told me some time ago.
And, as with any subject they approach, the 50 Swats writers really do explore every aspect of Halloween and anything even remotely Halloween-related in this show.
There are 22 short pieces performed in two acts, all bound together by the eerie melodies played by the Old Fashioned Poison Musicians, which include Jae Wilson on bass, synthesizer and piano; Chris Kyle on piano and cello; Steve Beard on drums and Greg Mize on guitar.
The show's writers include John and Sara Cruncleton, Amy Wilson, Jason Watts, Julie Ann Seals, Kaycee Johnson, Heather and Dale Sams and Angela Adams. Players are John and Sara, Dale and Heather, Johnson, Seals, Watts, Cassie Hollis and Joseph Gomez.
The show opens with Sara Cruncleton tied to the chair in the center of the pentagram, excitedly anticipating what John Cruncleton, whom she believes to be a sado-masochistic lover she met online, is about to do to her in "So Hot," written by Sara. Early on, you get the feeling he isn't playing, and as she giggles and squeals like a school girl on too much caffeine, he becomes more and more cruel, and the lights go down just before he begins to torture her.
But that's just the first scene. Not every scene in the show is terrifying; some are hilarious, some are just sick and others are meant to make you think. And, as usual, no topic is taboo. "Halloween Time," for instance, written by Kyle, declares "Halloween time is for getting' it on/Halloween time is for freaky sex."
Amy Wilson writes five episodes of an eerie, backwoods tale of two young female travelers who get a flat tire being picked up by a couple of guys straight from Deliverance. You expect the worst until, unexpectedly, the tables are turned.
There's a scene written and performed by Watts that may be familiar to you if you saw Humans, called "Vlog 37." It's a new episode in the video blog of Watts' crazed, conspiracy theorist vlogger, and it's hilarious. I remembered this character as soon as I saw it on the program, and Watts does a good job of lightening the mood a little in the middle of the first act.
I actually covered my eyes a little during "Seething" and fought the urge to cover my ears in "Necrosexual" (you won't believe this one until you see it). The second act maintains the fairly balanced blend of gore and humor that the first act established, but I laughed more than I was scared during the second.
The whole show is kind of like sitting around a campfire with your closest friends telling ghost stories (however cliché that may sound) or like watching a film about a group of really close friends sitting around a campfire telling ghost stories. You don't really know what to expect next, and, at times, you're not quite sure what you just saw, which was evident by the audience's reactions at various moments throughout the show.
The writing was exceptional, the acting on point, and the music really did hold it all together. At some points, what I thought was pre-recorded "spooky" noises and music was actually the band, and they helped maintain the show's eerie ambiance throughout the evening.
I'm sure not everyone is as big of a baby as I am when it comes to this sort of stuff, so you may not even think it's all that scary if you see it, but I can guarantee this group will freak you out in one way or another.
Old Fashioned Poison Candy continues through the end of October, with performances at 8pm every Friday and Saturday, October 19, 20, 26 and 27. Tickets are $8 at the door, and the Nightingale is at 1416 E. 4th St.
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