Slaughterhouse on Tanner’s Close Review BY F. KATHLEEN FOLEY

Slaughterhouse on Tanner’s Close
Presented by Pacific Theatre Ensemble
in association with Moclalr Productions;

705’/2 N. Venice Blvd., Venice; (213) 306-3943. Opened Nov. 11; plays Wed.-Sun., 8; closes Dec. 13.

An existing company that has been floating around from theatre to theatre in the past few years, the Pacific Theatre Ensemble is an exciting, dedicated, innovative and audacious group of young performers who are now opening their workshop space in Venice as a venue for public productions. If their inaugural work in this space portends a future trend, then this could be one of the best companies to emerge in the Los Angeles area for many a year.

Not for the squeamish, Slaughterhouse on Tanner’s Close, a play by Daniel O’Connor, who also directed this grotesquely ebullient drama, concerns the notorious Burke and Hare murders in late 1820s Edinburgh, Scotland. The craze for medical dissection as a new and revolutionary research tool was reaching its peak. Doctors, whose only legitimate source of cadavers was the public gallows, conducted a routine and grisly trade in stolen corpses. Known ironically as “resurrectionists,” grave robbers could make upwards of 10 pounds for a fresh specimen-riches indeed for the poverty stricken dregs of a rapidly industrializing society.

Opportunistic maggots on the underbelly of that society, Burke and Hare gave a new twist to the principles of supply and demand. Rather than bothering with the messy, arduous work of grave robbing,- they simply resorted to an ambitious program os systematic murder, killing well over a dozen victims in the first seven months of their unholy partnership.

Dylan Thomas’ screenplay about Burke and Hart was posthumously produced a few years ago as the film “The Doctor and the Devils”, but neverbefore have these famous murderers been so effectively dramatized. This is the first full production of O’Connor’s play and it seems in every respect optimum. O’Connor’s direction is a joy, an exuberant blend of horror and humor that gives a satiric bite to this ripe, Dickensian melodrama. O’Connor handles the many scene changes faultlessly, with ingenious Nicholas Nickleby style ensemble touches that keep the action flowing. The actors, many of whom play multiple roles, are ingeniously utilized-as refreshment vendors before the play commences, as shrouded figures holding twisted trees in the graveyard scene, as colorful denizens of the murky sidestreets of Edinburgh, as hostile spectators during the final trial.

A wizard of his craft, technical director Steven Marcus has transformed a tiny storefront into a protean arena. Scaffolds, grimly symbolic of the gallows, form an integral part of Markus’ design. The audience sits on a two-tiered scaffold; movable scaffolds, propelled by the other actors like mandriven treadmills, whisk the players from one playing area to another. Marty Schiffs lighting not only contributes to the deliciously spooky ambience but is also a small miracle considering the severely limited space and facilities. The costumes by John Brandt, Betsy Klingelhoefer and Sarah Zinsser reflect a great deal of care and attention to detail, as does the sound by Phil Giannikas and Thomas Poindexter. Richard Green’s original music is spectral enough if a trifle too contemporary sounding.

The performers handle the demands of their Scottish brogues superlatively and display a fine and obvious dedication to the principles of ensemble playing. The cast includes Robert C. Morris, Thomas R. Oglesby, Del Appleby, Jacqueline Antaramian, Deena Burke, Jofrey Spaulding, Timothy Wheeler, Jeffrey Josephson, Marcia Firesten, J. Steven Markus, Randy Wendelin, Richard I.awrence Harrison Sarah Zinsser, Scott Lincoln and Jennifer Taub. Some have larer roles than others but all are equal in terms of their considerable talents.

It is to be hoped that this production extends for a long, healthy run, but rush to see it, just in case it doesn’t. In the meantime, “From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggity beasties and things that go gump in the night … good Lord deliver us! And good Lord deliver us more fine productions from this extraordinary company.

703 Venice Blvd. , Venice CA 90291 Box Office 310 822 8392

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