A few years ago, the Tricklock Company staged a play called Dandelion Clockwork, a bizarre comic horror show that, from what I remember, was quite a bit more horrifying than comical. I liked it well enough, but it didn't exactly bowl me over.
Thankfully, originator Shenoah Allen and his fellow Pajama Man Mark Chavez, along with a slew of talented Tricklock regulars, recently reworked the play. The new incarnation, Love & Beauty, opened last weekend at the Tricklock. Although I prefer the old title, the new play seems to me to have progressed lightyears beyond its predecessor.
Don't let the name fool you. This play has little to with either love or beauty. It does, however, have puppets (always a good thing) and an astonishing amount of stylized gruesomeness, so I don't think you'll be disappointed.
The story is set in the Father Harrington Memorial Hospital for the Mentally Ill and Criminally Upset. A nervous, sweaty doctor (Shenoah Allen) has developed an unhealthy obsession with a tiny potted plant named Henrietta. His nurse, Miss Davis (Juli Etheridge), has developed an unhealthy obsession with the doctor.
The play opens with two cooks being dismembered in the catacombs located directly beneath the asylum. The administration of the hospital—the doctor, the nurse, the sister (Byron Laurie) and the ball-shaped Mother Superior on wheels (Kevin R. Elder)—are all horrified. Although all that's left of the cooks is the head of one and the hand of the other, the doctor pronounces both drowned.
Meanwhile, a sweet, girlish mental patient named Catherine (Kate Schroeder) yearns to reunite with her brother Dean (Mark Chavez), who she believes is in Egypt. Little does she know that Dean is at that very moment traveling home to rescue her from her incarceration.
This is all we have by way of plot—a murder mystery to be solved, a damsel to be saved. Thankfully, all this climaxes into a bloodbath of hideous gore the likes of which I've personally never witnessed on stage. It's quite a sight, believe me.
According to the program notes, Love & Beauty is inspired by the Grand Guignol Theatre of Paris. This legendary shock theater venue closed in the early '60s after disgusting audiences for decades with productions specifically designed to make the weak of stomach upchuck their dinners onto the theater floor.
The press materials for Love & Beauty state that this play will make you giggle and wince at the same time. You won't fully comprehend the accuracy of this statement until you actually see the show. This play is brutally, brutally disgusting, especially during the last half. It's also hilarious from start to finish.
The performances are mostly excellent. The jokes, although sometimes shamelessly corny, are extremely funny. I love the puppets, of course. I also love the sequences inspired by silent film. Likewise, the choreography and physical gags are all very creative. And the live music performed by Alison Whelan (piano/vocals), John Sandlin (guitar) and Muni Kulasinghe (violin/vocals) is truly exceptional throughout. The best part of Love & Beauty, though—seriously—is the gore, which this crew has done so artfully that I felt at times as if I might barf the enchiladas I ate at the opening reception onto the Triclock's floor.
Do not bring kids to see this show. I left the theater feeling pleasantly traumatized. The trauma you would inflict on young kids by bringing them to this play, however, would most likely be a far cry from pleasant. This one is for adults only.