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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
A Grand Guignol Children's Show ((*not for children)
The macabre plays (Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel & Gretel) are the bookends for those that are more farcical (The Ugly Duckling and Rapunzel). All involve sexual innuendo and a few include blood, gore, and murder. Some work, some don't. Because the show leans more toward the comedic than the horrific, it may disappoint those expecting a dark and terrifying experience. Even the macabre is doled out with a wink and a smile. That said, there are many moments that leave the audience delighted. The energetic performers provide an entertaining, although uneven, evening.
Debbie McMahon has created the show, framing it as a "birthday party" for the puppet Guignol (voiced by Carlos Penaranda, in an authentic and robust French accent)—the night's guest of honor. A chandelier hangs from the rafters of the theater, and French music plays to set the scene. Clowns dressed in the commedia del arte style sell concessions—these are our Guinolers, ready to provide a night of G-rated entertainment for Monsiur Guinol. Expect absinthe, beer, wine and popcorn upon entry—inebriation is encouraged, and allowed even during the show, a fun twist on the usual "no eating or drinking" policy enforced in typical theater. We are quickly introduced to puppet Punch (also Penaranda, with a cockney accent this time) of "Punch and Judy" fame, whose "Punchy Players" interrupt the Guignolers, and takeover the stage—they have a much different form of entertainment in mind, and thus the "Grand Guignol" begins. Guignol and Punch watch the plays as they are performed from a mini-stage framed with curtains, and comment on the show as it progresses.
Standouts are the two horror plays, Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel. Both incorporate the "horror" aspect of the Grand Guignol, and that's where they shine. Diana DeLuna displays fine acting chops in a role that could be the standard Little Red, while Bridgette Trahan lights up the stage as the Witch in Hansel and Gretel. Her energy picks the play up, after a melancholy first Act.
The farces are fun, but forgettable. The silent "melodrama ballet" of The Ugly Duckling has its moments, but feels slightly monotonous. A finger puppet Rapunzel is also inconsistent, providing laughs but not ever really pushing the boundaries.
A few dance interludes appear toward the beginning and end of the show, and the choreography shines. Choreographer Jenne Simpson makes able use of the performers, who prove capable dancers, handling pirouettes and Russian dance moves with ease.
The production values are uneven—although the puppets looked fantastic, the "Punchy Players," dressed all in black, looked haphazard. More attention could have been paid to ensuring that they looked sleek and professional. In addition, the scene changes could have been covered better with music—the theater is so small, the backstage noise was distracting, even though the interactions between Guignol and Punch were entertaining.
For a program that states: "Children: The Other White Meat," Guignol does not scare or shock as much as its premise. To be sure, it takes a lot in the current climate to truly terrify—but the best moments of the plays are when they revel in the macabre, delighting in the blood and gore that could bemore prevalent throughout.