By Beki Pineda

A NIGHT OF GRAND GUIGNOL. Two one-act plays written by Tami Canaday and Ellen K. Graham; directed by Hart DeRose. Produced by Pandemic Collective (The Bakery Arts Warehouse, 2132 Market St., Denver) through Aug. 27th. Tickets available at

At the turn of the century, a stylistic form of theater was created to provide a diversion for Parisians who had tired of traditional drama. Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol pursued an audience by performing plays rife with gory acts of simulated murder and torture. It all wasl done, of course, with smoke and mirrors and the special effects available at the time. Women collapsed, men fainted, doctors were on hand at the theater to assist—it was all the rage to be scared. It was the equivalent of watching Freddie Krueger in a dark house by yourself.

Unfortunately for Pandemic, they are playing to a modern audience who have been through PSYCHO and SWEENEY TODD. We know horror and this isn’t it. The first play, A BIT OF SNUFF by Tami Canaday, was a stylized romp through some no-so-grand guignol. Red ribbons simulating blood, pulled out of various costume orifices, were supposed to supply the fear factor. Thomas Gerlick was the “torturer,” with Cali Masters as the “tortured.” It was never made clear why Gerlick played the scene with his shirt off and his nipples X-ed out with tape. That took whatever respect they were trying to pay to the style from homage to comic.

The second piece, THE CENTERPIECE by Ellen K. Graham, had a bit more of a story but still no real fright. The parents of a teenage murderer are brought together with the mother of the murdered boy on a reality-style TV show to seek forgiveness. Predictably, it does not go well.  Suzanne Wellens was the steely-eyed grieving mother who performed with a ferocious calm. Dakota Chase Hill did a nice job as the fatuous TV host who, in looking to create the Big Moment, got more than he bargained for. But the climax was predictable about half an hour into the piece.

Pandemic Collective is going to have to up their game if they hope to compete in this town’s theater environment. Let’s see what and how they do next time out.

WOW factor: 6.5

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