With a trio of plays and a “frame” that keeps the audience entertained while the locations are being reset, Wicked Lit playgoers have plenty to discuss on the way home. We went on Friday, Oct. 3 for opening night at Altadena’s Mountain View Cemetery and Mausoleum. Which was the favorite? Which was the scariest? Which was the most gripping? And this time around, which was the most humorous?
The plays are Las Lloronas, a retelling of the ancient Mexican legend; Dracula’s Guest, based on the deleted first chapter of Dracula by Bram Stoker; The Monk, based on a gothic novel by Matthew Gregory Lewis; and the frame, The Spirits of Walpurgisnacht, a take-off on the German celebration. Josephson spoke with Examiner about the plays and new writers and directors in the article “Wicked Lit 2014: Unbound Productions extends the boundaries with new tales.”
Wicked Lit presents “immersive theater adapted from classic literature.” Annually in October, as the night creeps up more quickly over the tombstones, founders Jonathan Josephson, Paul Millet and Jeff G. Rack put together adaptations of horror stories that are mounted, not on a stage in a theater, but in a 130-year-old graveyard. The audience is divided into three groups, which are led through the halls of the dead to see the three plays in rotation.
It’s not an easy place to mount a production. As the last resting place of thousands, the space must be treated with respect. The productions themselves use many of the same corridors, so each scene must be well timed to avoid creeping up on a scene from a different play and to avoid sound crossover. The actors are not miked, so they must project well enough to be heard by the back of the crowd. Lighting and sound effects equipment require extensive and mostly hidden cabling. Wicked Lit seamlessly accomplishes these tasks.
For our part, Las Lloronas¸ adapted by Jonathan Josephson and directed by Paul Millet, was the most affecting of the three plays. Five women (Katelyn Gault, Bianca Gisselle, Anna Gabrielle Gonzalez, Lisa McNeely, Melissa Perl), four of which are based on real women, tell their stories of infanticide from the 16th-century La Malinche to a 21st century woman who will be recognizable to the audience. They center around the spirit of La Llorona, the weeping woman of Mexican myth, who drowned her children and is doomed to wander the world searching for them.
The pieces are introduced with proper cautionary words by El Diablo (Joe Camareno) and feature the nearly silent Angel Duran and Sonny James Lira as the men in each of the women’s lives. This particular choice puts the emotional battles of the women in the spotlight. The interesting twist to these stories is that while in a sense they are ghost stories, they examine the women more deeply: their exigencies, compulsions, hubrises, and decision-making. Haunting stories, indeed.
Dracula’s Guest, adapted by John Leslie and directed by Jeff G. Rack, is a pretty much straightforward Dracula lore, without the Count himself. There are the dire warnings to Jonathan Harker (Eric Keitel), who ignores them and finds himself lost in a cemetery on Walpurgisnacht on his way to Dracula’s Castle. He is met by two of Dracula’s brides (McKenzie Eckels, Angie Hobin), who want their pound of flesh. The cemetery itself adds to the eeriness of the tale, with the brides flitting and fighting among real tombstones.
In a story that keeps one asking “What’s next? What’s next?” The Monk, adapted by Douglas Clayton and directed by Debbie McMahon, delivers scares and surprises. The gothic chapel at Mountain View is a perfect setting for this gothic novel, which features an unusually strong female lead in Matilda (Ember Knight), a sheltered monk (Eric Harris), and a grouchy nun (Wendy Worthington). Matilda makes a decision, and pays for it with her…well, no spoilers! It’s a tale of ambition, seduction, power, and deadly bargains.
The intervening skits of The Spirits of Walpurgisnacht, written and directed by Charlie Mount and Aurora Long, provide lively humor between the horror stories with magic and mentalism, science and spirits. Franz Mesmer (Dustin Hess) and his band of gypsies (Elyse Ashton, Kyle Fox, Tina Van Berckelaer).
The entire cast gave solid, often compelling performances. Of special note: Camareno’s white-suited devil who is both sinister and wise in Las Lloronas, Gisselle, singing “La Llorona” as Lady Amelie, and Melissa Perl as the complex Dona Marina (La Malinche). Worthington, who may be the real star of The Monk with her ability to remake what at first seems like a peripheral character, contrasts with Knight, who had difficulty projecting, especially when she turned from the audience. Eckels is seductive and terrifying as first bride of Dracula, and all four of the Mesmer team delighted with over-the-top comedic antics.
The production runs through Nov. 8. Tickets can be purchased via the Unbound Productions website, and are selling out quickly. This production is not suitable for children under age 13. The show lasts about three hours, and playgoers must be able to quickly traverse uneven ground and climb stairs in the dark and to stand for several minutes at a time. Comfortable walking shoes are a must and since fall nights can get quite cold and damp at the cemetery, patrons should dress accordingly and bring a jacket.
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