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LA Theater Review

A Grand Guignol Children's Show

Here's the raffishly stylish piece of holiday counter-programming you're seeking. Well, it's not really a holiday show, per se, and despite the title it's most definitely not a children's show unless you're hanging with an incredibly louche set of toddlers, but it's clearly an antidote to much of what gets produced at this time of year. Be sure to arrive in time for the demonstration of the proper preparation of absinthe, which is about a half hour before the official curtain time. This company tradition is ably discharged in mellifluous French by the lovely polyglot Tina van Berckelaer clad in a green fairy costume and exuding the sort of charm and whimsy you'll not be seeing much of in the rest of the deliciously grim, unapologetically bleak evening.

Writer-director Debbie McMahon has gone to the canon of children's literature and found the old, gruesome versions, which she stages with unabandoned glee. The 200th birthday of the puppet Guignol, which is supposed to consist of a collection of light and heartwarming entertainment, is the framing device as well as the rationale for birthday cake later, but things go awry very early on when Guignol's cousin Punch (both puppets handled by Carlos Penaranda) arrives with his players and their own idea of what should constitute the evening's program. Thus Little Red Riding Hood becomes an erotic horror play in which Grandma (Vanessa Forster) is graphically eviscerated and Little Red (Hannah Chodos) radiates a sly sexuality in her encounters with the Wolf (Gary Karp). There follows a "melodrama ballet" choreographed by Jeanne Simpson based on The Ugly Duckling, and while it's fun, it's a bit diffuse and seems to run a bit longer than it actually does.

This may be your sole opportunity to experience a primer on sexual positions performed by finger puppets, so play close attention as McMahon and the Petit Guignolers present to you Rapunzel. The big piece of the evening is Hansel and Gretel, in which the director's ability to stage the troubling with aplomb is most in evidence. The production's musical embroidery is eclectic and sets just the right mood for this disturbingly enjoyable celebration of the ghastly.

Presented by [via] Corpora at the Art/Works Theatre, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A. Dec. 5-Jan. 10, 2009. Fri.-Sat., 8:30 p.m. (Also Thu., 8 p.m. Dec. 18 and Jan. 8.; Sun. 7 p.m. Dec. 28 and Jan. 4.) (800) 838-3006 or www.brownpapertickets.com.

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