Fantasia 2013: Boozie Movies Reviews Clive Barker's HISTORY OF THE DEVIL
Whew. That was a mouthful. But really, what business does this drunken film critic have reviewing a play?
While there are obvious similarities and overlapping characteristics between live theatre and cinema, they still remain two entirely different mediums and writing an intelligent, analytical, unbiased review of the previously mentioned play has become a daunting task for this stumbling writer.
The guidelines a critic may follow when gauging a film's value as a piece of art, entertainment, and successful commercial commodity are null and void when being applied to a play.
There's an entirely different tradition in the style of acting and plot structure with theater and the ideologies behind those clash with those behind cinema.
As a supporter of the live arts, I've always admired theater more than I actively enjoyed it and have generally balked at elitist cultural arts critics who claim that theater is more pure or intimate than film.
Theater lacks the nuances of cinema for this jaded drunken critic. Too often, this writer's experiences with theater comes across as competitive children at the middle school talent show all fighting for the audience's attention with their comically exaggerated body language, rap star hand gesturing, grating accents, and constant yelling as acting.
I've generally found playwriting to be equally annoying as opposed to screenwriting with the way that characters speak in exposition, having to explain every detail of the imaginary settings around the characters as well as speechifying their thoughts and motivations. Characters rarely feel like they're having a natural conversation so much as they're trying to explain the story to the audience like an elementary school teacher explaining basic concepts to a grade level class.
And for the first few scenes of Title 66's production of Clive Barker's massive opus, a horrible dread crept up within me as the story opened in a London home with a couple having their morning tea. The actors were young, far too young to be playing a middle aged English husband and wife. And they were grossly overcompensating for that with strained British accents.
And then a hellish demon named Verrier appears to whisk away the husband, an attorney named Sam Kyle. The demon informs Sam that he's to defend the devil himself on trial in Africa.
Verrier is a feral, rabid beast of a character and she is immediately introduced as an over the top caricature, a bumbling cocksure villain that's played from the crotch to provide the requisite comical relief.
There's humor within Clive Barker's dialogue, a droll, complex, delicately layered humor that the actress wouldn't allow to breath on its on. Every punch line was overemphasized to groan inducing degree.
After that first scene, panic had set in with the realization that the play had a three hour running time and there was yet another 170 minutes to go.
Bad films are far more durable than bad theatrical performances. They're rarely as long and they cost significantly less to attend. And you can make frequent bath room trips or purchase drinks and snacks to enjoy during the screening.
With theater, particularly non Broadway theater, you're trapped in a small room, sitting in a horribly uncomfortable seat, only a mere few feet away from the performers, looking them in the eye.
But the last thing this critic has ever wanted to do is to bash a small fledgling theater troupe's production.
And fortunately, this review will not be doing that.
While that first scene may have exemplified everything that can be wrong with theater, just about everything that followed exemplified everything that can make theater a singularly exhilarating medium for storytelling.
The moment that actor, Lucas Chartier is introduced as Lucifer to stand trial so that may be acquitted of his sins and re-enter heaven, this particular rendition of Clive Barker's play found its strive and marched forward from there on solid ground .
Lucas was a force of nature with an expert command of the stage, and yet, his powerhouse performance never overshadowed the rest of the cast, even those who may have had me initially looking for the exit door in the opening scene.
History of the Devil starts off as a courtroom procedural as Lucifer relays his life's story. He has called for the trial himself in a desperate attempt to return home. and he's portrayed as a angry and confused man who only wants to make his father proud. If he can found redemption on earthly grounds, he should be allowed back through the gates of heaven.
He tries to argue that he may have inadvertently influenced the course of history, but he never participated directly with earthly affairs. Thus, he has unfairly been accused of being the father of all that is evil when he's only been the victim of unfortunate circumstances.
As he tells numerous tales that take place throughout time, the play physically stages them as flashbacks. The small cast changes customs mid performance while also simultaneously re-dressing the stage. It may not read so impressively on the webpage, but it was an exciting tight rope act in execution. Eight actors played thirty four characters.
Within seconds while still in mid sentence, scenes, sets, and customs were changed, all in front of the audience, and yet it was handled with a grace that never made it jarring, distracting, or obtrusive.
So while some performers struggled with one role, they had equal chance to shine in others. Every member had their time in the spotlight. The devil may have given the strongest performance, but he never outright stole the show.
And Jeremy Michael Segal's direction was nothing short of brilliant. Using a mostly barren stage, Title 66 relied on elaborate costumes, props, and a dazzinlgy dynamic lighting scheme by Alexander Smith to create an otherworldly atmosphere.
Even with its mammoth running time, Clive Barker's masterpiece rarely flutters with any extra padding or needless exposition. There's constant movement, both literally and figuratively.
No scene or story wears out its welcome and the characters were always in action, they're motions around each other on the stage performed like a dance all while the lighting helped to embellish it.
It was visceral and there was something almost cinematic to it.
In comparison to his other non-film projects such as Weave World and The Books of Blood, this may also be Clive Barker's most accessible work. While History lacks the violence and grotesquery of his films and most popular writings, Devil still remains intense and provocative and provides a sharply satirical ending that's equal measures blasphemous, nihilistic, and yet emotionally resonant.
Title 66 handled the big denouement with a rather ingenious idea by dropping the curtains, breaking the 4th Wall, and literally tearing down the set in mere moments to hammer home the play's final message.
With a cast of mostly 20 - 22 year olds, Title 66 accomplished a mighty feat by never letting the audience feel as though we were watching 20 -22 year olds playing pretend (except for that first scene).
This was an assured and confident production of a play that older, wiser, and more experienced theater troupes could easily have floundered. This may have been the most memorable piece of storytelling at the 2013 Fantasia Film Festival, hence a review from a drunken film critic with no business reviewing it.
While elaborate themed parties and screenings that indulge our contemporary audience's need and desire for active participation with events organized solely to be Instagramed, Tweeted, and shared on Facebook, Fantasia's brave decision to mount an elaborate, intellectually exhausting three hour play is further evidence of the festival's singularity within the biz. Fantasia is not just a horror/genre film festival; it's not just a festival that only caters to contemporary geek fad culture tastes by patronizing fan boys. Fantasia is a festival that celebrates the art and joy of masterful storytelling no matter how that story is told.