Theater of blood

For those curious about the start of Reduxion Theatre’s fifth-anniversary season, know this: There will be blood.

While Shakespeare serves as Reduxion’s bread and butter year in and year out, founders Tyler and Erin Woods — who serve as artistic director and managing director, respectively — wanted to expand beyond their upcoming slate of Richard III, Love’s Labour’s Lost and History of Tom Jones. They found their solution in France.

From 1897 to 1962, Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol in Paris staged plays of realism-based horror. The violence was simulated, yet so explicit that fainting among audience members was not uncommon. So great is its influence that the term “Grand Guignol” is often used today as a label slapped on any films in which the gore quotient is high.

Erin Woods said that, to her knowledge, Reduxion’s Night of Grand Guignol marks the unique style’s first time to be performed in Oklahoma City. True to the format’s roots, Reduxion will not shy away from depicting horrific acts.

“They’ll definitely see a working guillotine,” she said. “During rehearsal, I was backstage and heard someone say, ‘Where’d our severed heads go?’” Tyler Woods, her husband, learned about Grand Guignol through a book he stumbled upon in college.

“It was fascinating to me,” he said.

“But it’s never been done here. And what better way to bring it than for our own company to do it?”

Grand plans

Guest director Tim Berg has structured Night of Grand Guignol so that each Friday show is completely different from each Saturday’s.

“Tim has tried to create it so that every short show has a surprise,” said Erin Woods, noting that each night’s production is composed of four short plays. “Some of the surprises are in subject matter, and some are actual — he calls them ‘shock gags,’ coming at the audience with things. There will be partial nudity and blood and excitement and jumping-in-your-seat moments.”

She said one element that made Grand Guignol so revolutionary is that the theater wrote plays about people no one else in France would: “prostitutes and common folk and the homeless.”

For
Tyler Woods, the macabre subject matter reminds him of yesteryear’s
radio days, when pre-TV families would gather round for a trip to, say,
the Inner Sanctum.

“They also remind me of Vincent Price or the old 1920s Nosferatu: really
melodramatic, but with limbs being chopped off, eyes being gouged out,
things like that,” he said. “Back when the original Grand existed, it
left audiences with an almost underground experience that couldn’t have
been done anywhere else.”

To replicate that
experience, he said all Saturday shows will feature the OKC Improv
troupe performing not only as a warm-up act, but also during
intermission and after the curtain falls.

“It’s
almost like a haunted house feel: You never know what’s around the next
corner,” he said. “We really wanted this to be an experience — not just
to go and sit in the dark and watch someone perform. You’re going to
feel actively involved in it.”

Issuing challenge

The
Woodses admitted that while the Bible Belt seems like an odd region to
stage such fright, they believe Oklahoma City is more than ready for it.

“I
think that our patrons want something new and challenging and
refreshing,” Tyler Woods said, citing its successful production of the
musical Hair with full nudity, and noting that Reduxion is known
in part for shaking up Shakespeare by utilizing nontraditional settings.
“We play a lot with challenging audience expectations. Erin and I
thought with Halloween especially, what a perfect time to throw
something at them that would really challenge them.”

Erin Woods said the popularity of burlesque locally suggests OKC is ready for a true depiction of danger.

“That’s part of the flavor of Grand Guignol,” she said. “Artistic, but titillating and full of surprising and sexy antics.”

While audiences may survive the spillage, will Reduxion’s wooden stage, which Tyler Woods built?

“We just stained it, actually!” he said. “It was blond and now it’s a nice deep red.”

Added his wife, “We actually had some bloodstains on it left over from Macbeth.”

Rod Lott

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