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A CurtainUp Review

by Les Gutman
Hush, Olga, there is nothing to understand.

Arthur Halpern
Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, 2001, I reviewed abobe theatre's revival of its seasonally appropriate treat, The Eight: Reindeer Monologues (linked below). In a perfect world, its latest offering, Ghoul, might have opened around Halloween, but don't let that stand in your way. Playwright Todd Miller, Artistic Director Jeremy Dobrish and company get just about everything right in this terrific production.

Bela (Arthur Halpern) and Olga (Megan Hollingshead), a peasant couple in some unidentified Eastern European village, are getting very old, and their bodies are failing them. The local quack, Dr. Blush (Henry Caplan), can offer Bela no relief. When an itinerant charlatan, Klopert (Paul Molnar), offers the couple "the cure for being old," the always skeptical Bela sends him packing but Olga follows him into the woods and trades their net worth for his secret formula: a sickening concoction including monkey bladder (apparently not hard to come by in these parts) and the bones of the dead. Her surreptitous grave-robbing causes a local furor, with the local police inspector, Pavos (Vin Knight), joining with Dr. Blush to find the culprit. (The former is looking for an eight-foot tall man who eats garlic, wears an eye patch and plays cards; the latter -- his faith in science unbending -- employs a new gadget called an Electro-dynamometer in his search.) The man Pavos is looking for (Arthur Aulisi) soon materializes, along with his man-dog sidekick (Caleb Sekeres) who carries his manhood around in a jar. Incidentally, much to Klopert's surprise, the magic potion actually works -- Bela and Olga are young again!

Don't rejoice too quickly. Every cloud may have a silver lining, but every bit of magic has something noir under its shining skin. In this case, it's a gluttony for more of the same, which of course demands more and more bones. Once the cemetery is depleted, their rampage leads them down the obvious path: increasing its inventory. Tormented, Bela and Olga seek an antidote from Klopert; he provides one, although it's more complete than they might have hoped. The story ends poignantly if not happily ever after.

Along the way, there's also a young boy, Hans (Frank Ensenberger), who comes upon a book telling the story which is being played out (his readings from it provide a bit of structure, a lot of humor and a pre-telling of his own awful fate) and his prostitute mother, Sophie (Erin Quinn Purcell), who has her own troubles.

Ghoul is a period piece, but its cautionary tale -- which anticipates our still-consequential taste for quick fixes while exploring the landscape of our belief systems -- couldn't be more apt. Todd Miller's script is taut and entertaining. Jeremy Dobrish's direction invests it with just the right mix of sensibilities; he seems to know just when to let the show wink at us, and when not to. Performances, unfailingly good, veer gingerly over the top but don't trade the characters' waggishness for their humanity.

Steven Capone's set design is inventive and, aided by projected backdrops and quite wonderful lighting by Michael Gottlieb, impressive. Dobrish even manages to incorporate scenic shifts into the show's bountiful silliness. Costumes, by Kevin Brainerd and Markas Henry, are elaborate and on target, and Ruth Carsch's makeup deserves commendation as well. There is an exceptional soundscape by Jill DuBoff, relying on a fine and suitable musical score by Lewis Flinn. Finally, Dan Knechtges adds choreographic elements that complete the show's well-conceived production elements.

The production's tag line is "Scare Yourself Silly," and while few will tremble in their seats, many will laugh uncontrollably at this very funny fairy tale. And while I'm at it, I might as well mention that kids are likely to enjoy it as much as adults: it's only inappropriate if you would shield your little ones from Little Red Riding Hood. And like every good fairy tale, it has a very important lesson to offer.

CurtainUp's Review of The Eight: Reindeer Monologues

by Todd Miller
Directed by Jeremy Dobrish
with Arthur Aulisi, Henry Caplan, Frank Ensenberger, Arthur Halpern, Megan Hollingshead, Vin Knight, Paul Molnar, Erin Quinn Purcell and Caleb Sekeres Set Design: Steven Capone
Lighting Design: Michael Gottlieb
Costume Design: Kevin Brainerd and Markas Henry
Sound Design: Jill B.C. DuBoff
Music: Lewis Flinn
Choreography: Dan Knechtges
Makeup Design: Ruth Carsch
Fight Choreography: Paul Molnar
Running time: 2 hours with 1 intermission
Ohio Theater, 66 Wooster Street (Spring/Grand)
Telephone: (212) 946-6403
WED - SAT @8; $15-20 (at door)
Opening January 23, 2003, closing February 8, 2003
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 1/18/03 performance
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