When Le Theatre du Grand-Guignol debuted in Paris in the late 19th century, audiences were so shocked by the gore and disturbing subject matter that some reportedly fainted while others walked out.
Grand-Guignol (which translates to "Big Puppet Show") introduced viewers to bleak topics like real crime (murder, prostitution, drug addiction, violence) and altered personality states (insanity, panic, hypnosis) with stories that often incorporated a bloody climax.
The avant-garde, naturalistic horror genre transcended class barriers and spread across the world, enduring until the 1960s.
Theatre 'd Art's latest production, Grand Guignol, brings dance, magic and sketch, as well as what director and theater co-founder Jonathan Margheim calls "doom-gloom hacky-slacky violence" to re-create the height of the era on stage. The troupe will work with the same level of sophistication as was employed in the early 19th century, which translates today to a "little bit of misdirection and a whole lot of hidden baggies."
Strongly influenced by vaudevillian and burlesque performances, Grand Guignol intersperses comedy and horror, with four original Le Thtre du Grand-Guignol plays cut by one locally written Vaudevillian-style sketch and one short dance piece.
The plays will involve such characters as a girl in a mental institution convinced that her cellmates are trying to kill her; a sick man trying to persuade a doctor to amputate his finger; and a man horribly disfigured by acid thrown in his face, trying to elicit a kiss from his ex-fianc.
"The productions terrified people back in the day," says Margheim, "but obviously, our tolerance levels in this day are much higher. People won't run out screaming, but [the plays] have an excellent way of building tension."
Theatre 'd Art will ham up the horror and suspense, says Margheim, but will come nowhere close to the brutality of, say, a contemporary Quentin Tarantino flick.
"[These are] subversive plots," Margheim says, "but written with the focus to entertain."