Thursday, October 22, 2015

"Shocktoberfest 16: Curse of the Cobra"

Shocktoberfest 16: Curse of the Cobra
Damien Chacona, Rob Keefe, Scrumbly Koldewyn, Nicolas Torre & Andy Wenger

Ready to get your Halloween started in a gory and ghoulish, frightfully funny, blood-screaming way?  Then forego the usual evening at a local haunted house or screening of a B-grade, horror flick and head instead to Shocktoberfest 16: Curse of the Cobra, five one-act performances by the masters of the macabre, Thrillpeddlers.  Carrying on the Parisian tradition by Le Theatre du Grand-Guignol begun in 1897 and running 65 years, Thrillpeddlers presents its 16th annual version of the French-born, titillating and terrifying dramas, comedies, and sex farces of horror (all done as a series of one-acts) begun in a Montmartre Jansenist monastery.  Not for the faint of heart nor the nose-upturned sophisticate but certainly for anyone interested in a little kink, a lot of blood, and loads of laughs, Shocktoberfest 16 is one of those “only in San Francisco” traditions that must be seen to be believed.

The five one acts of the 2015 version vary widely in length, focus, and quality of script.  Cracking the Vein (Andy Wenger and Damien Chacona), the weakest of the group, begins the evening as a short tale of greed and gore set in Gold Rush California.  Three miners discover ‘the big one’ in ‘them there hills’ and bring their treasure chest to the local brothel to be met by three prostitutes who are only too eager to begin a showdown of blades and guns to see who ends up with the treasure.  The action is fast and furious, but the script overall does not give the cast of six much to munch on.

Keeping the history of frontier California as a focus, Scrumbly Koldewyn’s Donner Party Diner is a short, sung ditty imaging a greasy-spoon eatery featuring the Donners and their ill-fated traveling companions as the main menu (Foot on a Platter, anyone?).  In typical Scrumbly fashion, the lyrics and score are catchy and kitschy.

The Cast of "The Model House"
The Model House by Rob Keefe ends the first and begins the second acts and jumps from 1948 to 1958 during the break.  A veteran Marine sergeant recruits his loyal troop to bring their wives to join him, his wife and their twins in creating a model community complete with brick grills, backyard bomb shelters, and (as it turns out) lots of toxic wastes underneath from a former dump site.  Alcoholism, incest, wife abuse, homophobia, and murder combine with kids’ birthday parties, a neighborhood performance of South Pacific in the backyard, and hot and kinky lovemaking by two cute teenage boys for a tale of righteous revenge.  While not Alfred Hitchcock or Rod Sterling, it is truly in the Grand Guignol tradition where no subject or symbol is too sacred to skewer and no blood is ever spared in spilling.

Earl Alfred Paus as Puppy
The peak of the evening is by none other than the master of Thrillpeddlers scripts and music, Scrumbly Koldewyn, who presents his second one-act for the evening -- this time a musical playlet about a man and his dog and their unexpected trip to Cobra Island in the South Seas.  Matt and his sexy, bare-bottomed Puppy find comforts of every sort (not to be named here) in their relationship but have all that ecstasy interrupted by dart-blowing dog-knappers.  Remembering Puppy had muttered “Cobra Island” in his blissful, post-playtime-with-master sleep (all puppies talk in their sleep, right?), Matt sets out to find his four-legged mate in a hair-raising, life-threatening venture full of dancing and singing chorus lines of Cobra natives and sexy wolves.  More fun and scandalizing than bloody (although there is ultimately a skinning of the chief villain for all to behold), The Revenge of the Son of Cobra Woman is Thillpeddlers and Scrumbly Koldewyn at their combined best.

Noah Haydon as Cobra Woman
Running throughout the various one-acts is a cast of seventeen that keeps changing their individual costumes, wigs, and make-up as well as persona in order to go from one outlandish scene right into the next.  Noah Hayden shines heads and shoulders above the rest in two drag roles in The Model House and The Revenge of the Son of Cobra Woman as he shows a wide range of exaggerated emotions, physical prowess, and vocal voracity in both his acting and his singing/dancing.   David Bicha plays villainously both the drunken and despicable former sergeant and wife/child abuser in Model and the deliciously evil and high-stepping Prince Cobra of Revenge.  The evening’s singularly outstanding example of sexy and sweet combined goes to Earl Alfred Paus for his Puppy, where he brings new meaning to being man’s best friend.  Shout-outs also go out to Birdie-Bob Watt for his ‘not going to take this s—t any longer’ Heidi in Model; to John Flaw for his guitar-playing, big-voiced Chief Priest in Revenge; and to J Iness for the deep, spooky, and totally fun bass voice he brings to several characters throughout the evening.

In every review I do of a Thrillpeddlers production, I can never say enough about the creative costuming, the fantastic make-up, and the outlandish wigs.  Glenn Krumbholz, Dwight Overton, Tina Sogliuzzo, and Birdie-Bob Watt out-do themselves in Shocktoberfest 16 in outfitting gritty saloon gals ready for a bedroom brawl from the Gold Rush, bright-skirted housewives from the 1950s that just walked out of a “Leave It to Beaver” set, and South Sea demons that range from the super-sexy Cobra Woman to the hideous Prince Cobra.  Flynn De Marco provides wigs for canines and humans alike with flair.  In Thillpeddlers’ style, the wild and often sparkling make-up is done by each of the performers themselves and is universally done well.

Also as a trademark of a Thrillpeddlers’ evening is the closing, all-lights-out A Spookshow Final (conceived and directed by Nicholas Torre).  Black-light spots on flying-in-your-face objects of ghoul along with a fever-pitched score of Bach organ music (Scrumbly Koldewyn and Birdie-Bob Watt, Musical Directors) make for the perfect ending to another Shocktoberfest extravaganza of bloody fun as only Thrillpeddlers and Producers Jim Toczyl and Russell Blackwood can manufacture. 

Rating: 3 E’s

Shocktoberfest 16: Curse of the Cobra continues at Thrillpeddlers’ The Hypnodrome, 575 10th Street, San Francisco through November 21, 2015.  Tickets are available at or by calling 415-377-4102.

Photos by David Allen Studios

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