MADHOUSE VARIATIONS by Eric Woolfe, directed by Christine Brubaker, with Kimwun Perehinec and Woolfe (Eldritch Theatre). At the Theatre Centre (1087 Queen West). Previews begin Saturday (October 23), opens Tuesday (October 26) and runs to November 7, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, extra show October 30 at 10:30 pm, matinees October 31, November 6 and 7 at 2 pm. $20-$25, Sunday pwyc, October 30 late-night $13.13, previews $15. 416-538-0988. See listing.
Puppets are taking over Toronto theatre.
Puppetmongers' Hard Times just closed and Ronnie Burkett's Billy Twinkle has been extended to the end of the month.
Now Eldritch Theatre's Eric Woolfe gets into the act and goes for the jugular.
Woolfe can wring laughs from horror stories as ingeniously as Nightmare On Elm Street's Freddy Krueger can pile up corpses.
His puppets are as clever as his scripts (The Babysitter, Dear Boss and Grendelmaus), which are inspired by sources as varied as teen slasher films, Jack the Ripper, expressionist 30s German movies and Beowulf.
Woolfe's latest, Madhouse Variations, weaves together a trio of tales from very different horrormeisters: H.P. Lovecraft, E.T.A. Hoffmann and Ambrose Bierce. The stories are related by inmates of Ravenscrag Asylum, an institution that manages to turn its doctors as mad as its patients.
The madness couldn't make actor Kimwun Perehinec any happier. Having worked with Woolfe in the development of most of his shows and appeared in Sideshow Of The Damned, she's onstage with Woolfe to play multiple characters in Madhouse.
"I'm flattered that he wrote this one with me in mind," she says, smiling. "What appeals most to me is the playfulness in his works, despite all the challenging of combining acting and puppetry. Collaborating with him is the truest expression of childlike ‘play' that I've ever experienced onstage."
Woolfe's script traces the history of one character as he descends into psychotic violence.
"Eric has a sophisticated knowledge of the horror canon and can speak about the stories, the comic books and the films as well as the essays that analyze them.
"When he references these narratives, he adds his own sense of humour, which is creepy, off-colour and lots of fun. He knows how to titillate using theatrical means; there's no fake blood, but rather lots of red ribbons and cloth."
Add to the narrative Woolfe's puppets - which include some drawn from the Punch and Judy tradition, hand puppets, a ventriloquist's dummy, a five-foot blue character and one worked by both actors - and some bizarre masks and you have a striking take on horror theatre.
"This is my first puppet show, and working on it is kind of like patting my head and rubbing my stomach at the same time," says Perehinec, a core member of Studio 180 appearing in the company's upcoming Our Class.
"As an actor, I'm used to being the performer. The challenge is to remove myself from the action and put the focus on the puppet. I don't recoil at something horrific; the puppet does.
"One day, Eric said that I'd finally learned to ride the bicycle. That's the moment when I overcame trying to get it right and found myself living in the puppet."
When she talks to people about the adventures of rehearsal, Perehinec's reminded about "how ridiculous and fun" the experience is.
"At one point, I'm having a two-way conversation with myself, as a masked figure and a puppet, and at the end of it I have to stab my puppet self in the head.
"The kid in me," she giggles, "loves this kind of exploration."