3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Creepy participation thrills
Dan Franzen (dfranzen70) from United States
13 October 2012
In Todd Robbins' off-Broadway show Play Dead, audience members are
treated to an array of realistic, terrifying, funny frightful moments.
There is a séance. There is murder. There is resurrection. For a live
show, it must be a one-of-a-kind experience; as a filmed version, it's
still pretty exhilarating and entertaining.
Robbins is essentially a cross between an old-time Southern minister
and Vincent Price, presiding over a macabre smörgåsbord of ghoulish
props. With his careful intonation and quick wit, Robbins is able to
play off the fears and sense of humor of the audience members to
chilling comedic effect.
The entire show is dark, save for various lights around the stage; even
the exit signs are off. At the beginning, Robbins dramatically turns
over an hour glass and announces that if anyone wishes to leave, he or
she may do so any time before the sands complete their fall. After
that, the doors are loudly locked, and the audience is immersed in
utter darkness and - for a time - quiet.
Robbins is a master showman. He's surrounded by office-supply boxes
labeled with the names of various characters. He notes that each box
contains remnants of that person's life, and the story he tells is
true. Each tale leads into a visceral interpretation of that character
- good or not so good - and how their evil or goodness will soon
infiltrate each audience member.
Oh, and did I mention that this is participatory theater? Now, I will
not give away one set piece, one story. But I will say this: people get
wet. People may get things thrown on them. The theater is completely
dark; people are made to feel scared, but in a silly-scared sort of
way. After all, they knew what they were getting into.
As the film audience, we are able to see the infrared recordings of the
proceedings. Therefore although we ourselves don't feel a spray of
liquid, we can see the audience reacting to same. It's a lot scarier
than it sounds.
The stage version was directed by Teller of "Penn and" fame; the film
itself was directed by Teller with Shade Rupe. You can see why someone
like Teller would be enchanted by this sort of show. It's macabre, and
it involves fun trickery and effects, just like his shows with Penn
Jillette. In a Q and A after the movie's showing, Teller noted that
sideshows and the like were tremendously popular at the onset of the
20th century but had begun to die out by the late twenties, when sound
was added to movies. Live freak shows that included mediums, geeks, and
other assorted freaks were a fascinating bit of Americana, at least an
Americanized version of what had come over from the Old World.
Now, I enjoyed Play Dead, enjoyed it quite a bit. It's inventive,
delirious and gleeful in its chase for chills and heart-stopping terror
- and yet sweetened just enough by a welcoming host with a wry wit and
a real sense of melodrama. I appreciated the message shown at the
outset of the film, that the audience members were not stooges. Knowing
that helped me to identify with them. Could have been anyone on that
stage, could have been me. Robbins was masterful at working the crowd.
They - and we - were his pawns, but only with our assent.
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