Happenstance Theater’s “Cabaret Macabre” has returned to Baltimore Theater Project with a series of delightful vignettes that are dark, sometimes bloody, disturbing, and always funny. These clever pieces are collaboratively written by the performers and take the audience on a wild ride through measured and interwoven acts inspired by the works of writer/illustrator and Tony Award-winning costume designer, Edward Gorey.
…polished and seamless performance…The comedic timing in each skit is impeccable.
Happenstance Theater is an award-winning, multi-talented traveling troupe that was started in 2006 by artistic co-directors, actors, and husband-and-wife team, Mark Jaster and Sabrina Mandell. The troupe now consists of five actors who have been working together since 2012 and their time and experience together makes a polished and seamless performance. The sixth player is guest musician Stephanie Baird, whose piano and organ playing provides the background music for each act. Her comedic skits from the front of the stage allow for scene changes and are spot on. There is barely a wasted moment in this production.
The theater is dark and the costumes dark and muted (with the occasional blood red) which are truly reminiscent of a Gorey illustration. The Victorian costumes throughout add to the Gothic feel of the strange goings on.
The vignettes start out in a seemingly random way but, toward the end of the show, become intertwined. The audience is eager with each new act to determine what the twist is that takes the macabre to the delightful. The comedic timing in each skit is impeccable. These are performers who obviously enjoy what they do and pull out all the stops to connect with the audience.
Other than acting, the performers show their other talents as well. Mark Jaster proves to be a cutting edge musician as he draws a bow across a full-sized saw to create a perfectly eerie mood or strums a tiny banjo. His facial expressions show an amazing range, from icy like a mannequin to exaggerated, reminiscent of Buster Keaton. Sabrina Mandell, Gwen Grastorf, and Sarah Olmsted Thomas prove to be wonderful vocalists and Alex Vernon (thankfully) proves to be an accomplished juggler. (Thomas and Vernon are also the founders of Alex & Olmsted, an internationally acclaimed puppet theater and filmmaking company—and husband a wife.)
All the actors are excellent at physical comedy as they are pushed off cliffs, tumble across the stage, or—no, it would be wrong to spoil the fun of discovery here. The less you know in advance the more fun you’ll have. Let’s just say there is a meat cleaver, a talking severed head, ghosts, and lots (and lots) of bodies.
“Cabaret Macabre” is perfect fare for the Halloween season. The take-aways from this production: don’t trust the help (or your sister), always look under your seat before you use it, and for heaven’s sake, stay away from croquet.
Running Time: One hour and 15 minutes with no intermission.
“Cabaret Macabre” runs through November 12, 2023 at Baltimore Theater Project, 45 W. Preston Street, Baltimore, MD 21202. For more information and tickets, go online or call the Box office at 410-539-3091.