Just Desserts

October 24, 2007 at 11:04 pm (Arts, Horror, Humor)

When I managed to miss Tom Wait’s “The Black Rider” twice, I decided that I would never again hesitate to buy a ticket for any spooky, dark or macabre-sounding show that came through town. So imagine my anger when I thought I’d missed Erik Sanko’s “The Fortune Teller,” currently playing at UCLA. (a) I was leaving for Connecticut halfway through its run and (b) by the time I heard about it, all of the shows that I could attend were sold out, anyway. But a series of fortunate events (realizing that my plane reservation was for Friday, not Wednesday, and being the first person in line for rush tickets) allowed me to see the show, thereby assuaging my guilty conscience and returning to some semblance of self-respect.

Let me first make sure one thing is clear: If you are at all a fan of the macabre, then by any and all means necessary, see this performance if you ever get the chance. It is an excellent show, well worth your time and money. It is not a perfect show, but it is thoroughly entertaining, and the puppets and set are truly wonderful. The puppets are gleefully grotesque, as if they had just stepped out of a Tim Burton movie, (you can go to his website for detail shots of many of them) although it does help to be in the front row for them. I was in the second to last row, and some of the finer details were certainly lost on me. The set was also fantastic, with opening panels and transforming stages that allow nine separate settings in a three-setting space. And the attention to detail in many of the rooms, in terms of the props and their set-up (such as the optometrist’s lens), offers yet more fun.

Speaking of Tim Burton, the music is another one of the show’s successes, perhaps even its most successful element. The music was composed by none other than Danny Elfman, and betrays hints of Corpse Bride and The Nightmare Before Christmas, but that’s perfectly fine, since that is the exact atmosphere being conjured: A mad carnival of wicked fun, rather than a spooky morality play about revenge and justice. And Gavin Friday’s gravelly deep voice gives the perfect ambiance to the narration. Sonically, it really is near perfect. (Is “sonically” even a real word?)

That said, there were aspects of it that disappointed me. Of the various characters’ deaths, I found the latter three to be fairly… “eh.” The actor’s fate has an excellent literary pedigree, but is it really representative of the sin of pride? (I won’t spoil the surprise for you by telling you what happens, so if you don’t ever get to see it, you’ll never be able to answer that question. And I’m sure the wondering will keep you up nights. And I’m okay with that.) I was frankly also rather disappointed at the small role played by the ventriloquist’s dummy in his demise. Sure, his death was revenge, but was it really his sin that destroyed him? The banker’s and the optometrist’s deaths were also rather uninteresting. This isn’t to say that they aren’t fun to watch, but they lack the artistic beauty of, say, the hunter’s and the cook’s deaths, which were fabulous, and the direct result of the sin those characters represented.

The humor also wasn’t consistent throughout. The whole thing is supposed to have an Edward Gorey feel to it, but some of the deaths are just more fun than the others. The cook’s and the ventriloquist’s private scene were hilariously funny, but the banker’s and the blacksmith’s were rather dull, in my opinion. I don’t really have a solution for the problem, mind you, but I found myself laughing a lot more during the entertainment revue before the ventriloquist’s act than I did as the actor died.

Perhaps the main problem, though, is its length. I was expecting a solid hour-and-a-half of entertainment, and the whole show clocked in at around 50 minutes. Now, maybe that’s just sour grapes. I’m sure that running a puppet show is hard work, etc. etc. etc., and who am I to complain? However, I got out wanting more, not in the sense that I wanted to go see more work by Sanko (although I do), but in the sense that I really wanted another 20 or 30 minutes worth of spooky story. I guess there isn’t much you can do with only seven deadly sins, though.

So, my final rating is 4 out of 5 stars. It really is a lot of fun, and the physical humor of the puppets is just a treat to watch. However, it could be a tad bit more macabre.

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