Artifice loves October. More than its chance for occasional respite from the standard heat and humidity, it’s the most imaginative month on the calendar.
So here’s a grab bag of sweet October indulgence. Charlie Brown’s trick-or-treat sack might have held a bunch of rocks, but this one is full of potential.
• If you were on Carlen Street this past Sunday and Monday, you saw cars outside Joe Jefferson Playhouse. As mentioned in our Oct. 3 issue, auditions for the musical “Young Frankenstein” were underway.
Previous conversations with director Gene Murrell reveal his perfect grasp of how timing makes Mel Brooks’ material work. Hey, he was a natural playing Max Bialystock in JJP’s 2016 version of “The Producers.”
But a persistent question arises: Wouldn’t this be best in October? I thought the same while enjoying their August/September 2016 rendition of “Sweeney Todd.”
The answer probably has to do with organization, striking and building sets, and so on. Then there’s clashes with football games, Greek Fest and seasonal soirees affecting attendance.
Granted, Playhouse in the Park normally fills this niche every year but few others. Do we need more Halloween-centric productions during the last weeks of October?
There has to be a wealth of material to choose from, psychological thrillers, comedies. I’d even settle for radio-style readings of things like “War of the Worlds” or other classic tales.
Easy for me to say when I’m not depending on the box office, though.
• Speaking of playing parts, there’s another seasonal outlet in curiously short supply here. We’ve got all the parts to make it work, we just need an organizer.
I was lucky enough to spend part of my childhood in a haunted house. Not a place with sincere claims, but something far more fun.
My father was a Birmingham Jaycee, the civic organization whose Mobile chapter started the Azalea Trail, the Greater Gulf State Fair, the Junior Miss Pageant and the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo. In 1970, they needed a new moneymaker and staged a haunted house. It became their biggest fundraiser for close to 40 years.
My parents were in the thick of it. Mom had a creative bent so she designed and constructed sets and costumes, and applied makeup. She even took shifts playing a female vampire.
So my sister and I spent the weeks of October there with our parents. We toured the rooms before and after the public arrived. We spent hours backstage with Mom and watched her creativity. We heard adults talk about the crowds, who they scared, what worked and what didn’t.
We were young, ages in single digits, but we loved it. It was unique for a grade-schooler, being backstage at a fright factory, and explains my early fondness for the eerie and mysterious.
Did it warp me? Thankfully so.
Why isn’t this in Southern Gothic Mobile? It doesn’t have to be a Jaycees project, but you would think it would have arisen by now.
I’ve only seen a pair in town, a little less than a decade ago. Produced by a couple of young artist coalitions, they were one-offs.
We’ve got the talent, the painters, makers, actors, costumers. What we might be short on are vacant mansions.
• For October, Artifice headquarters is always awash in as much seasonal film fare as we can muster. Having haunted this planet for over a half-century, we’ve seen all the trends, what works and what doesn’t, what lasts and what ebbs.
Our perennial favorites lean toward classics. Free-flowing gore and plentiful jump scares are cheats.
For comedies, there’s the aforementioned “Young Frankenstein” and both of the Addams Family flicks, a pair whose delightful insanity is infectious.
“Psycho” isn’t a bloody slasher film but a groundbreaking work of suspense. “The Omen” and “The Sixth Sense” have two of the creepiest kids on film.
While the original “Nosferatu” is exquisite, 2000’s “Shadow of the Vampire” adds so much more texture and horror to an already chilling tale it almost can’t be topped. Its performances are impeccable.
“Sleepy Hollow” is derived from America’s oldest Halloween lore and Tim Burton’s homage to Hammer horror is dripping with atmosphere. Chris Walken is perhaps at his most spinetingling.
“Rosemary’s Baby” is still superb. Not only did Ruth Gordon snag an Oscar for her work but Stanley Kubrick cited it as his favorite horror film.
It’s well-worn, but Kubrick’s “The Shining” is a necessity. Its economy, lighting, performances, music, just every iota of it is utter genius. When you can make the phrase “Come and play with us, Danny” ominous, it says more than my mere adjectives.
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