In 1895, Oscar Metenier created the Theatre du Grand-Guignol in Paris. This theatre presented naturalistic plays but quickly specialized in gory horror productions, mostly influenced by the works of Edgar Allan Poe. The sadistic murders and eye-gougings depicted on stage seemed to please the French audiences until the Theatre du Grand-Guignol finally closed in 1962.
Nowadays, in French, the adjective "grand-guignolesque" is used to describe something outrageously gory and extreme, so outrageous and outdated that it has become funny for modern audiences. In fact, the spirit of the Grand-Guignol seems to be popular again among young directors who use the caricatural aspects of the genre and turn them into humoristic devices. Last winter, a couple of small companies staged dark and gory productions, clearly labeled as being Grand-Guignol inspired. A bigger production -- Gabor Rassov's Neron, directed by Pierre Pradinas -- was also obviously influenced by the Grand-Guignol, with spurting intestines, fountains of blood and swinging torn-off eyes displayed on stage to an appreciative and laughing audience.
Now, Rassov and Pradinas have paired up together to direct four short plays in the Grand-Guignol style, under the umbrella title Infernal. Rassov and Pradinas have renewed the style of the Grand-Guignol and have used anachronistic modern music (heavy metal, techno) just as in Neron. Two of the short plays included in Infernal deal with lunatic asylums and in one of them ("Les Infernales"), a young innocent girl is being eye-gouged by three other insane and sadistic fellows, while the nuns in charge of the hospital are too busy mourning a recently deceased nun to stop the slaughter. Well, this was Grand-Guignol.
Infernal is performed by a cast of 12 young actors. The four short plays are "Les Infernales" (by Andre de Lorde and Alfred Binet), "Amour et Petite Tenue" (by Gabor Rassov), "Le Systeme du Dr Goudron et du Professeur Plume" (adapted by Gabor Rassov after an Edgar Allan Poe's short novel) and "La Folie Blanche" (by Henri-Rene Lenormand). Lenormand, Binet and de Lorde were masters of this genre. De Lorde was considered the chief playwright of the Grand-Guignol and even nicknamed "The Prince of Terror". Until May 11, the first three plays are performed at each performance. After May, 11, "La Folie Blanche" will either alternate with "Le Systeme du Dr Goudron et du Professeur Plume" or be added to the three other ones.
The Theatre du Grand-Guignol used to present three short plays, with a husband-cheats-on-wife comedy between two horror plots. Infernal follows this pattern. In addition, another small production in the Grand-Guignol style presents a three-plays program under the umbrella title Effrois !!! Pour La Saison. This production also offers two horror plots ("Le Faiseur de Monstres", "Devant La Mort") and a comedy in between ("Isolons-nous Gustave"). For tickets and information on Infernal at the Espace Kiron, call 331 44 64 11 50. Runs until May 30. No performances on Wed. and Sun.
For tickets and information on Effrois !!! Pour La Saison at >l'Athletic, call 331 46 24 03 83. Runs until June 13.
-- By Stephane Ly-Cuong