Thursday, July 10, 2008

Review: Casa De Los Fantasmas

During the 1920s and 30s, radio airwaves crackled with the spooky creakings and moanings of horror/suspense radio shows like Lights Out and The Inner Sanctum. The Canadian Space Opera Company, creators of Peril From Beyond Space!, has uncovered long-lost episodes of the spookiest show of them all -- Out Of The Closet.
So this show is part of the Fringe Festival, whichs aims "to have a wide variety of artists participate while empowering audiences with the ability to decide for themselves the truly great productions from the good, the bad and the gloriously disastrous." Translation: Whatever you see will be entertaining; either deliberately or by accident. A practical upshot of this accessibility is that tickets are only 10 bucks; so really; you have no excuse not to see a Fringe show.

Casa De Los Fantasmas falls under the deliberately entertaining category. The acting is at times campy and almost consistently over the top (over projected, over enunciated and over acted) but this is in perfect homage to the classic radio shows it emulates. (Just get yourself any of the Radio Reruns releases and I'll prove it to you.) They capture the spirit of the old shows to a tee, but amp it up with a creative use of stealth humour -- you can't always laugh at the jokes themselves; but you can laugh at the fact that this was once considered serious entertainment -- and laugh at that you will.

The presentation of the show is an art in and of itself. First off there's your trip down to the studio in the basement of CIUT FM. You'll literally need a guide (and are given one) to find your way, winding through racks of radio equipment and the largest vinyl record collection you will ever (EVER!) lay eyes upon. The end of the journey is a small room hewn from the stone foundations of this historic building, affectionately dubbed "the hot box" by the cast and crew. (Don't worry, you'll live... just like radio, the show only runs for about an hour.) The small space fits the format well, though I do advise you to get there early as the view from the back is unfortunately compromised.

But what is there to see at a radio show you ask? Well, plenty in this case. While staged like radio with a central mic surrounded by the cast, each actor also plays multiple roles; adapting mannerisms (and hats) to help identify the characters. This would not have been a big deal huddled by your radio in 1935 but in the confines of the studio this really helps when the same actor voices two roles immediately back to back. With the view blocked by someone's head I found it occasionally hard to follow, and can only assume it was better for those that could see it.

Another visual not to be missed is the foley artist, or in plain english, the sound effects guy. In the age of laptops, samples, and Ableton; even the Ampex decks of the 1950s; the effects in a show are something we take for granted. Some guy pushes the button at the right time and there you go. In 1930s radio however, well... let's just say it's a little bit more of an art form.

Then finally there's the commercials: This show was generously sponsored by the fictitious folk at Colonel Mills, makers of fine household products you'll definitely want to hear about!

Casa De Los Fantasmas continues its run tonight through Sunday, and you should check it out (showtimes here). If you do plan on going though, be sure and let me know; apparently the cast rotate through their roles and I wouldn't mind checking out a remix.