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LA Theater Review

A Very Grand Guignol Christmas

The preshow demonstration of the proper preparation of absinthe (available in the lobby), delivered by the Green Fairy herself (Tina Van Berckelaer) in melodious French, enchants. The tone is more properly set afterward, however, when gift boxes are destroyed and various toys are violated for our pleasure. As nothing says "holidays" like hostility and domestic discord, the two primary selections for the evening are Georges Courteline's These Cornfields, a merry farce about marital strife and the gross abuse of the host-guest relationship, followed by André de Lorde's The Laboratory of Hallucinations, about similar exploitation of the bond between doctor and patient.

Nestled within the evening is a warming tale of sudden love and subsequent decapitation performed by Les Petits Guignolers, for which a separate, tiny program is issued. (Small sidebar: When I thought I might be attending after a dress-up function, I asked director Debbie McMahon if I need worry about spraying fluids. Her response: "Well, except for the finger puppets, you should be fine.") The entire production is done with an eye to theatrical excess and is notable for keeping so many people on the same page.

As the Cornfields, Jeremy Guskin and Dani O'Terry are a veritable Punch and Judy, masters of the acidic aside, much to the dismay of their houseguest and punching bag, Herring (Ramy Eletreby, who nicely traverses the territory from polite dismay to outright panic). O'Terry returns in the second show as the lab assistant Mitchinn, a creature ghoulish and droll. Berckelaer is given the opportunity to use her classic 1930s-movie-star looks to best effect as the neglected wife of Dr. Gorlitz, an enjoyable turn by Kevin Dulude that combines the creepiness of Vincent Price with the frostiness of Coral Browne.

Gary Karp delivers the evening's, um, moistest moment as, well, I daren't tell you, but it's the image you'll take home with you. Ruthie Frank is a sprightly presence throughout in various roles. McMahon is impressive not only for her Danse Macabre, in which she is a life-sized puppet (one of the grand guignols of the title) but for the clarity of her vision and the effectiveness with which she delivers it. Have a weird and wonderful holiday.

Presented by Grand Guignolers de Paris

at Art/Works Theatre, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.

Fri.-Sat. 8:30 p.m. Nov. 24-Dec. 22.

(323) 871-1912. www.grandguignolers.com.

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