There is much that the average theatre-goer does not know about the Grand Guignol, the French Theatre of Horror that originated in the 1800s and is being revived in Molotov Theatre Group’s Blood, Sweat & Fears: A Grand Guignol Sick Cabaret. (On stage now through July 31 at DCAC in Adams Morgan.
For example, did you know that comedy was just as important to the genre as bloodshed? A typical night of Grand Guignol theatre followed a form the founders called “the hot-and-cold shower”: a suspense play followed by a broad comedy, which put audiences off-balance for the final, horrifying concluding story.
At Molotov, we’re trying to recreate that entire experience as authentically as possible. Our production of Blood, Sweat & Fears will be included as a case study in a textbook on the genre, to be released next year on the University of Exeter Press. Understandably, getting things note-perfect was absolutely essential.
Stylistically, this evening of plays will be unlike anything you’ve ever seen – because we’re going back to some authentic original practices in its production. In the mid- to late-1920s (the time in which I envision Blood, Sweat & Fears), several moments of style, music and theatre all came together. The Jazz Age and the Speakeasy mentality of the Roaring 20s lent the times an “anything goes” attitude, with a quicker pace to life altogether.
It was also the climax of the Vaudeville era and the height of notoriety for the Grand Guignol. Very old-style, nearly original practices of declamatory acting still were seen on stage in light entertainment. (think of the fast-paced, broad but very specific style that accompanies the melodramatic trope of “I can’t pay the rent!”/”You must pay the rent!” Or, the frenetic pace of the comedic slapstick of the silent film era’s Keystone Cops.)
By that time the Grand Guignol genre had been exported to other countries (England, most notably), and theatre itself began to see a bridging of the gulf between melodramatic and realistic acting. It was a beginning, of course: Stanislavsky’s “An Actor Prepares” would not be published for ten more years. A much different, more presentational style of acting was still prominent at the time.
In this whirl of influences the plays of the Grand Guignol offered an important transition to more modern practices – while still embracing the past. Professor Richard Hand, in his excellent book The Grand Guignol: The French Theatre of Horror, wrote specifically about the play Tics: Or, Doing the Deed:
“… (The) play is fast-paced and makes significant use of
innuendo and slapstick. A production of this play demands skills more associated with, for example the commedia dell’arte than horror theatre.”
It is Professor Hand who will be writing the upcoming textbook in which Molotov will be included. We’re grateful that he was able to travel from the UK to watch some of our rehearsals and provide some valuable directorial notes that proved we were on the right track.
I hope audiences that come for Blood, Sweat & Fears: A Grand Guignol Sick Cabaret leave feeling they’ve glimpsed a magnificent sepia-toned snapshot of a time in transition. The talented actors in this show – and my equally talented Assistant Director Elliott Kashner – all are deeply exploring a style that deserves a fresh look.
Enjoy Blood, Sweat & Fears: A Grand Guignol Sick Cabaret! You are cordially invited to laugh yourself sick.
Alex Zavistovich is the co-founder and Artistic Director of Molotov Theatre Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
eautiful moment of French-styled sex and horror.
Running Time: 85 minutes, with no intermission.
Blood, Sweat & Fears: A Grand Guignol Cabaret plays through July 31, 2016 at Molotov Theatre Group performing at DCAC-(District of Columbia Arts Center) – 2438 18th Street, in Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them online.
Ben Fisler’s review on DCMetroTheaterArts.
Magic Time! ‘Blood, Sweat & Fears: A Grand Guignol Sick Cabaret.‘ by John Stoltenberg on DCMetroTheaterArts.