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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
A Grand Guignol Children's Show ((*not for children)

It's Guignol's 200th Birthday! And we're celebrating with blood, cake & Absinthe!
Small and cozy, the Art/Works theatre has been transformed into "Le Theatre du Grand Guignol," an homage to the Parisian "big puppet" theater of farce and horror plays from 1869-1962. Grand Guignol was dubbed the "Theatre of Laughter and Terror" for alternating between horror and comedy, and the posters for the current A Grand Guignol Children's Show explicitly explain that the show is NOT for children.

The macabre plays (Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel & Gretel) are the bookends for those that are more farcical (The Ugly Duckling and Rapunzel). All involve sexual innuendo and a few include blood, gore, and murder. Some work, some don't. Because the show leans more toward the comedic than the horrific, it may disappoint those expecting a dark and terrifying experience. Even the macabre is doled out with a wink and a smile. That said, there are many moments that leave the audience delighted. The energetic performers provide an entertaining, although uneven, evening.

Debbie McMahon has created the show, framing it as a "birthday party" for the puppet Guignol (voiced by Carlos Penaranda, in an authentic and robust French accent)—the night's guest of honor. A chandelier hangs from the rafters of the theater, and French music plays to set the scene. Clowns dressed in the commedia del arte style sell concessions—these are our Guinolers, ready to provide a night of G-rated entertainment for Monsiur Guinol. Expect absinthe, beer, wine and popcorn upon entry—inebriation is encouraged, and allowed even during the show, a fun twist on the usual "no eating or drinking" policy enforced in typical theater. We are quickly introduced to puppet Punch (also Penaranda, with a cockney accent this time) of "Punch and Judy" fame, whose "Punchy Players" interrupt the Guignolers, and takeover the stage—they have a much different form of entertainment in mind, and thus the "Grand Guignol" begins. Guignol and Punch watch the plays as they are performed from a mini-stage framed with curtains, and comment on the show as it progresses.

Standouts are the two horror plays, Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel. Both incorporate the "horror" aspect of the Grand Guignol, and that's where they shine. Diana DeLuna displays fine acting chops in a role that could be the standard Little Red, while Bridgette Trahan lights up the stage as the Witch in Hansel and Gretel. Her energy picks the play up, after a melancholy first Act.

The farces are fun, but forgettable. The silent "melodrama ballet" of The Ugly Duckling has its moments, but feels slightly monotonous. A finger puppet Rapunzel is also inconsistent, providing laughs but not ever really pushing the boundaries.

A few dance interludes appear toward the beginning and end of the show, and the choreography shines. Choreographer Jenne Simpson makes able use of the performers, who prove capable dancers, handling pirouettes and Russian dance moves with ease.

The production values are uneven—although the puppets looked fantastic, the "Punchy Players," dressed all in black, looked haphazard. More attention could have been paid to ensuring that they looked sleek and professional. In addition, the scene changes could have been covered better with music—the theater is so small, the backstage noise was distracting, even though the interactions between Guignol and Punch were entertaining.

For a program that states: "Children: The Other White Meat," Guignol does not scare or shock as much as its premise. To be sure, it takes a lot in the current climate to truly terrify—but the best moments of the plays are when they revel in the macabre, delighting in the blood and gore that could bemore prevalent throughout.

A Grand Guignol Children's Show ((*not for children
Written and directed by Debbie McMahon
Cast: Bridgette Trahan, Carlos Penaranda, Dani O'Terry, Gary Karp, Hannah Chodos, Tina Van Berckelaer, Debbie McMahon, Diana DeLuna, Ember Knight, Josephine Keefe, Ben Durham, Patrick Humphrey, Lisa Cirincione, Vanessa Forster
Scenic Design/Puppets/Effects: Chris Bell
Lights: Matt Richter
Costume Design: Suzanne Scott
Choreography: Jenne Simpson
Melodrama/Movement Coach: Amanda Haney
Stage Manager: Josh Pritchard
Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes, no intermission
Dates: Now through January 10, Fri./Sat. at 8:30 pm (not 12/26), with select Thur. (12/18 & 1/8) & Pay What You Can Sun. (11/30 & 12/28). Pre-show Absinthe Demo about 20 min. before curtain.
Art/Works Theatre. 6569 Santa Monica Blvd. LA, CA 90038
Tickets: $20-$30
Tickets: or 323-871-1912
Reviewed by Ariana Mufson on 12/5/08.
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