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Review: 'A Grand Guignol Children’s Show' at Art/Works Theatre

December 11, 2008 |  4:16 pm

Grand_guignol_childrens_showFrancophile alert. When you enter the lobby of the Art/Works Theatre, notice the flag of Lyon, donated courtesy of the French city. It’s your first indication of the evening’s tone. As performers in Pierrot costumes and young women in scantier attire offer food and libations, you start to get into the spirit of the occasion. And when, in a delightful pre-show segment, a French-speaking Green Fairy (Tina Van Berckelaer) demonstrates the proper way to prepare absinthe, you get the strong impression you are in for a Gallic-style romp.

You’re not mistaken.

Trained at the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theater in Northern California, writer/director Debbie McMahon shows a deft sense of slapstick in “A Grand Guignol Children’s Show,” a charming, very French production very much in the spirit of the Grand Guignol, that famously sanguinary Paris theater that had its heyday beginning at the turn of the last century. McMahon, who paired with Amanda Haney for a 2007 “Grand Guignol” show, goes solo here, with delightful results.

The show, which features “absinthe, blood, birthday cake and witch burning,” is largely based on traditional fairy tales from an era before children’s stories were as carefully homogenized as they are today. (The program title, “Children: The Other White Meat,” should give you a clue. The bloody effects and erotic references rate an “adults only” advisory.)

The ebullient performers, including McMahon herself, throw themselves into the festivities with brio. It’s all in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the beloved French puppet character, Guignol, whose party takes a gory turn when mischievous Punch takes over as master of ceremonies. Among the ambitious technical elements, Chris Bell’s sets and puppet designs rate particular mention. And although a final “Hansel and Gretel” segment grinds on far too long, it’s a blip in an otherwise enchanting evening.

--F. Kathleen Foley

A Grand Guignol Children’s Show,” Art/Works Theatre, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. 8:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Also Dec. 18, 28 and Jan. 8. $20-$30. (323) 871-1912. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes. UPDATE: This show has been extended to Feb. 21.