REVIEW: "Hack/Slash: Stage Fright" Chicago Style Grand Guignol

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries a new type of theater flourished in France. It was called Grand Guignol. These productions were usually macabre and violent affairs, which featured special effects that simulated graphic gore. This Halloween season, Grand Guignol style theater is alive and well and living in Chicago in the form of the New Millenium Theater Company's production of "Hack/Slash: Stage Fright," which we told you about back in February when we interviewed the director and cast. "Stage Fright," an exciting, funny and faithful stage adaptation of Tim Seeley's "Hack/Slash" comic series that will leave you with a smile on your face and maybe even blood on your clothes.

"Stage Fright" is a two-act play, with no intermission, that adapts the first two "Hack/Slash" comic stories. In "Euthanized," Cassie Hack and her partner Vlad battle a crazed slasher capable of creating an army of zombie animals. In "Girls Gone Dead," Cassie and Vlad must stop a slasher targeting spring break co-eds.

The actual comic books serve as the set for "Stage Fright." The play is staged in front of a wall where background panels from the comics are projected. This gives the production a cool 3-D comic book vibe.

You don't have to be familiar with the "Hack/Slash" comic series to enjoy "Stage Fright," but fans of the comics will be pleased at how faithful the production is to its source material. The dialogue of the play is lifted straight from the comics and so is the plot.

The cast of "Stage Fright" does a terrific job bringing their characters to life. Stefani Bishop expertly wields Cassie Hack's cynicism and sarcasm when delivering her lines. She also really conveys the characters' underlying vulnerabilities.

Adam Mack is excellent as Vlad. His performance captures Vlad's essential qualities his loyalty, his kindness and his quirky sense of humor.

The rest of the play's small cast does a great job bringing to life the supporting characters and villains in the play's two stories. Many of the cast members played two or three different parts. Gina Ferenzi was particularly good in her portrayal of Laura Locke. She nailed the character's smug sense of moral superiority.

The production also features some very cool videotaped segments, which were used primarily for flashbacks. The most entertaining video segment was a hilarious fake advertisement for "Girls Gone Naughty."

The play is being held at the National Pastime Theater, which is a small venue, but the size of the theater gave the production an intimate feel. You feel like you're part of the action with many of the play's expertly choreographed fight scenes taking place so close to the audience. Depending on where you sit, you do become part of the action.

There is a section of seats covered by trash bags. These are the "blood" seats, where audience members will get showered with stage blood from many of the plays action scenes. To truly experience the fun, unpredictable nature of the show, this reviewer chose to sit in one of the prime blood seats. Afterwards, I looked like I had brutally murdered the Kool-Aid Man, but watching the play from the blood seats was especially fun because I never knew which fight scene would result in a rain of gore.

In between some of the plays more bloody scenes a hooded blood-mopper appears to clean up. These moments are particularly funny because of the silly dances he does while he cleans.

"Stage Fright" is a minimalist production and some of the effects, particularly the undead animals might come off as cheesy to some audience members, but that's the point. Just like the comic it's been adapted from, the play is a loving tribute to those great and "so awful they're spectacular" horror films.

Those interested in checking the play out have only one two more dates to catch it. "Hack/Slash Stage Fright" runs on Fridays and Saturdays until October 29th. Tickets are available at the door or through pre-order at the New Millenium Theater Company's website. So if you're in the Chicago area and are looking for some hilarious and exciting Halloween style fun, make sure you catch one of "Stage Fright's" remaining performances. Here's hoping that "Stage Fright" leads to more Grand Guignol revivals of plays that are twisted fun, hilarious, and full of flying viscera.

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