At Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol in Paris, it was not uncommon for audience members to faint or vomit during performances, or to scream so loudly that actors would break character to yell, "Keep it down out there!" The chapel-turned-theater served as the center for naturalistic horror plays between World War I and World War II. The idea: To get the audience worked up into a terrified lather for the fun of it. One of the most popular plays was Un Crime dans une Maison de Fous (Crime in a Madhouse), by Andre de Lorde, about a young girl trapped in an insane asylum who falls victim to the violent, demented actions of three sinister crones.
Call it the Saw of the 1920s.[image-1]
Rebecca Schaffer directs a production of Un Crime opening this week in the spooky basement of the Zootown Arts Community Center. She's a known figure in the Missoula theater scene, most recently director of last holiday's hit Ringing Out and starring in the University of Montana's Arabian Nights.
Schaffer also has plans for how to get the audience into the spirit. Audience members put on lab coats to evoke the sense of being in a mental hospital. There will be an absinthe bar open where people can imbibe and dance to French techno music an hour before the show. (The absinthe is made by the Ridge Distillery in Kalispell and catered by the Badlander) It's just another tactic to get everyone in the mood for a little bit of horrific fun. Perhaps without the puking and the fainting.
Un Crime dans une Maison de Fous continues at the Zootown Arts Community Center Thu., Dec. 6, through Sat., Dec. 8, and Wed., Dec. 12, through Sat., Dec. 18, at 8 PM nightly. Absinthe bar opens at 7 PM. $15/$12 advance at viscositytheatre.com. $5 per absinthe drink.