Can an abridged Wicked Lit still thrill and chill? Read our Wicked Lit 2018 Review to find out - if you dare!
Since Wicked Lit Halloween Theatre Festival made its debut nearly a decade ago, Unbound Productions has been playing a steadily increasing game of "Can You Top This?" Their annual anthology of short horror plays became increasingly elaborate, using the grounds of the Mountain View Mausoleum and Cemetery more extensively, adding a framing story to tie the segments together, and enhancing the drama with spectacular sound, lighting, and visual effects.
Reversing the trend, Unbound Productions offers a pared-down version of Wicked Lit for Halloween 2018, with only two plays, no framing story, limited use of the location, and fewer special effects. The result is like watching your favorite musical group abandon the elaborate stage lighting and effects of its stadium tour and return to a small club for a bare-bones performance: the back-to-basics approach is more intimate, eschewing spectacle in favor of emphasizing the music (or in this case, the drama). And when you factor in the lower ticket price, you're still getting great value for your entertainment dollar.
Wicked Lit 2018 Review: Overview
This Halloween, Wicked Lit begins in a hall near the Alameda entrance to the mausoleum, where props and costumes from past productions are on display, including the giant asp from 2017's "Toth's Labyrinth" (a reminder of how crazy-big the show had become). As usual, there are snacks for sale; new this year, there is a book of Wicked Lit scripts. Make a note: you will not circle back to this entry hall, so make your purchases up front. Also note: there is no restroom break after the show commences.
The entire production takes place inside; there is no excursion onto the grounds or into the cemetery. Even the use of the mausoleum seems more limited than in previous years, with the majority or the entirety of each play performed in a single room.With no framing story, Unbound Productions returns to relying on its story guides (there are two, one for each play) to hold the event together. The premise is that we are inside a museum; in between leading us to the rooms where the plays take place, the guides provide historical information on the building, including its architect, who lies interred therein. Both guides gave fine performances on the night we attended, filling in time between plays so well that we completely forgot about the absence of a framing story (which had been one of our favorite aspect of Wicked Lit the past few years).
Wicked Lit 2018 Review: The Chimes
The new production of The Chimes: A Goblin Story is not just a retread of Wicked Lit's previous versions of the play, which were mounted in 2010 and 2011: the look of the Goblins is considerably different, and the supernatural elements are enhanced with new lighting and effects (phantoms peer in windows; the painting behind the pulpit transforms into a swirling dreamscape).
The Chimes is set entirely in Mountain View Mausoleum's chapel, which seems a perfect piece of location casting (the lead character is a church bell-ringer), but staging the action in the confined space does have drawbacks: half the action (the present) takes place in front of the room; the other half (visions of the future) takes place behind the pews where the audience sits. Twisting back and forth to view both halves of the story can cause neck strain.
The plot itself, based on a story by Charles Dickens, feels a bit like Stave 4 of A Christmas Carol, but instead of a silent Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come, there are two verbose goblins revealing glimpses of the future to a grumpy old man, who learns his lesson and changes his heart. The plot device is a little static - the lead character mostly stands and watches events unfold - but the story builds to a dramatically satisfying pay-off that makes the viewing experience worthwhile.
Wicked Lit 2018 Review: Teig O'Kane and the Corpse
The new play, Teig O'Kane and the Corpse is a spooky little gem, a ghost story about a man who whose grief over his mother's death threatens to ruin his relationship with the woman he loves.
Interestingly, Teig O'Kane and the Corpse hews closely to an established template yet uses its familiar elements to brilliant effect. The play begins, like many of Wicked Lit's past efforts, with a dialogue between two characters. In the past, these opening dialogues sometimes turned into exposition dumps, filling in the back story before any real action began. Teig O'Kane and the Corpse, on the other hand, quickly establishes the characters and the situation and gets into the meat of the story almost immediately. After spurning his lover, who wants him to curtail his grief in favor of focusing on the baby she is expecting, Teig (Flynn Platt) hears a ghostly voice luring him into a mausoleum, where he encounters a living corpse named Cory (Kevin Dulude), who becomes literally attached to him.
What follows is almost a weird buddy comedy, with nicely timed lighting and sound effects every time Teig and the Corpse try to separate themselves. Hoping to severe this new relationship, Teig tries to lay Cory to rest, but his efforts are blocked - first, by a much angrier corpse, who wants to sink her teeth into Teig, and next by spirit who appears as a black-clad widow urging Cory not to surrender himself to the grave for eternity.
The main setting is fabulously realized, at first appearing as a limbo land encased in mist before the air clears and the tombs become visible. The flesh-hungry corpse (she's angry that her body was damaged with grave-robbers rent her coffin asunder) offer the most horrifying element in this year's Wicked Lit, and she gets the best exit ever, literally crawling through the audience, who gingerly steps aside to let her go.
Best of all, Teig O'Kane and the Corpse brings to fruition the goals of Wicked Lit, which seeks to infuse the horror genre with drama. It's not enough for the characters to survive the ghost or demon haunting them; the humans must have a character arc, learn from their experiences, and grow. You probably don't need psychic powers to envision the effect of Teig's bonding with Cory - which (literally) illustrates the problem of hanging on to the dead - but the script and the lead performance illuminate the transformation to poignant effect. Teig O'Kane and the Corpse offers the genre-required chills and atmosphere, but most of all it is filled with pathos, provoking more tears than screams. It is one of Wicked Lit's best efforts.
Wicked Lit 2018 Review: Conclusion
Wicked Lit 2018's condensed show (approximately 75 minutes) is not as overwhelming as its past extravaganzas. You are not going to encounter a giant snake or see Mountain View Mausoleum (courtesy of digital mapping) crash down around you, as in the 2015 adaptation of The Fall of the House of Usher. However, you will get two supernatural horror stories, staged in a remarkably immersive environment, that strive to elevate the genre into something more substantial than the standard Halloween haunt. With their 2018 show, Unbound Productions reminds us that Wicked Lit need not be grandiose in order to be great.
Wicked Lit 2018 Ratings
With their abbreviated 2018 show, Unbound Productions reminds us that Wicked Lit need not be grandiose in order to be great.
The Chimes: A Goblin Story. Written By Jonathan Josephson, based on the novella by Charles Dickens. Directed by Darin Anthony
Teig O’Kane and the Corpse. Written by Kerry Kazmierowicztrimm, based on the short story by Ernest Rhys, translated by Dr. Douglas Hyde. Directed by Paul Millet.
Wicked Lit 2018 continues at Mountain View Mortuary and Cemetery on October 12-14, 18-21, 24-28, 31; November 1-4, 8-10. The address is 2300 Marengo Ave, Altadena, CA 91001. Note: There is no parking in the lot at the Mountain View Mausoluem and Cemetery this Halloween; instead, park on Alameda Street. Call 818 242 7910 for more information, of visit unboundproductions.org.