I will not libel so pleasurable an evening as “The Halloween Plays” by calling it “monstrous”, but I will say the two halves have precious little to do with one another and it’s a stretch to say that either of them have much to do with Halloween. Purportedly a collaboration between two Brooklyn-based companies, neo-Baroque dance troupe Company XIV (see my article on them here) and Brave New World Repertory Theatre, in reality, the event is more like two completely different productions cobbled together to form a single bill.
Company XIV’s piece, entitled Denouement: A Murderous Masquerade, is their usual mesmerizing, gorgeous work, full of glittering 17th century costumes and beautiful (but well-trained) decadents inhabiting choreographer Austin McCormick’s poetic visual fantasies. While masks and murder do bring us within screaming distance of Halloween, these elements are really suborned to the primary theme of thwarted romance, making this work seem more fitting for Valentine’s Day.
Brave New World’s short play Too Much Candy is the evening’s low point. Really just a comedy sketch of the sort one used to see at so many mid-town showcases (when one still found oneself at those), the play trots out for the umpteenth time the old conceit of the guy on the psychiatrist’s couch who turns out to be a character from a fairy tale. In this case, it turns out to be Hansel, hence his problematic relationship with candy (and the play’s title). The witch in Hansel and Gretel (and the cruel mother or step-mother, depending on which version you read) are among the most horrifying characters in children’s literature. The play acknowledges this by swerving into some heavy beats that the jokey framework just won’t bear. The experience is nether fish nor fowl, but it did give me a nagging sweet tooth.
Fortunately, that was satisfied by the last play in the evening, Greg Kotis’s Salsa. Now this play, too, is more of a comedy sketch than a one act play. Why do producers insist on clouding the difference between the two? A comedy sketch, expertly conceived, is a perfectly legitimate and wonderful thing — and Salsa qualifies. It sets up its one joke, and pursues it relentlessly. Two guys (Kevin Hogan and Sean Patterson) meet in a diner, and discuss their heretofore fruitless quests for “the hot”, that is, a japeno sauce that is spicy enough to even register on their jaded taste buds. One of them produces a bottle of blue hot sauce — which turns out to be the product of a bizarre Mayan God. (Spoilers aplenty here but I can’t help it, I tell you!) The sketch is just about perfectly written, directed and acted. A true Halloween confection, even if this one, too, feels like another holiday. Say, Cinco de Mayo. Ay, Dios Mio.