Review: Cabaret Macabre: The Return Visit from Happenstance Theatre at Baltimore Theatre Project

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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Running Time: 1 hour and 10 minutes with no intermission

The autumn brings out crazy things in people. Harvest moons, Halloween, a chill in the air – it all leads to a certain, feeling. Some would say “macabre,” which is defined by Merriam-Webster as “involving death or violence in a way that is strange, frightening, or unpleasant.” The latest offering from Happenstance Theatre at Baltimore Theatre Project, Cabaret Macabre: The Revisit, is just that… so much so it’s in the name! There’s just something off-kilter about this spooky, but clever cabaret that you have to see to understand completely.

Credit: Happenstance Theatre

Credit: Happenstance Theater

The space itself has been transformed into a simple dark, black space that reminded me of a  side show tent where you can pay a shiny dime to look at the freaks, except there are no freaks here – just a talented, just left of center acting troupe called Happenstance Theatre. The billowing black curtains complement the high ceiling and blank stage, and the entire set is likened to a Tim Burton movie, dark and creepy but with a hint of anticipation as to what lurked behind those curtains.

Credit: Happenstance Theatre

Credit: Happenstance Theater

Lighting Design by Kris Thompson is spot on and minimal, but superb for this production. Once the house lights go down, the dim lighting throughout the production add to the creepy feeling and the precise lighting design complement the performance rather than inhibit it. Along with the set, the lighting sets the perfect mood for this macabre piece.

Costumes are certainly a highlight of Cabaret Macabre: The Return Visit. Each costume is on point with great attention to detail. Costume Design by Sabrina Mandell is to be commended as the mainly black and white color scheme is consistent throughout and the costumes are well though-out, superbly designed, and quite appropriate. The actors seem to be very comfortable in their many costumes and they certainly add to the creepy theme of this production. Kudos to Mandell on a job well done

Credit: Happenstance Theater

Credit: Happenstance Theater

Music played a major role in this production and the choices made by Composer/Arranger Karen Hansen are outstanding. Her talent is well apparent as, throughout the production, she plays the piano, an organ, a tuba-looking instrument, an upright viola, a double trumpet, and a lyre or something that looked like one. Moving back and forth from one side of the stage to the other, she performed with ease and comfort, displaying her musical prowess. Hands down, she is a brilliant musician and handles her role very well.

Credit: Happenstance Theater

Credit: Happenstance Theater

Being a true ensemble piece, no Director is noted but it seems all the performers – Gwen Grastorf, Karen Hansen, Mark Jaster, Sabrina Mandell, Sarah Olmsted Thomas, and Alex Vernon – has a hand in creating these creepy vignettes. Mostly pantomime with very little dialogue, each act was very well-rehearsed and got the point across through movement, which is quite impressive. All of the actors were very comfortable on the stage and all worked together like a well-oiled machine. Quirky comedy and making light of unfortunate events bring a dark comedy feel to this piece and it fits like a glove. This is truly and ensemble piece and each actor blends in beautifully, knowing his or her role, and performing it flawlessly to create a well put-together piece.

One act worth mentioning is an Apache Dance choreographed by Sarah Olmsted Thomas that portrays a violent encounter between a couple who seem to hate each other but can’t stand to be apart. The elegance and passion in the number is clear and very enjoyable to watch.

Credit: Happenstance Theater

Credit: Happenstance Theater

Another comedic act that is a standout is Rules of Croquet, which is another hilarious pantomime with the unfortunate demise of everyone involved. The physicality, creativity, and discipline in this piece is very impressive and makes it a certain highlight of the entire production.

Final thought… Cabaret Macabre: The Return Visit isn’t just your run of the mill production but a collection of Edward Gorey inspired Victorian nightmares that seem a little off kilter, but you don’t know exactly why. The ensemble performs the work beautifully and the entire experience puts you in the mindset of an old-time cabaret where there is no program to follow and each act is a surprise. Perfect for this time of year, the tragic beauty of this production is worth checking out!

That’s what I thought about Cabaret Macabre: The Return Visit. What did you think? Please feel free to comment below!

Cabaret Macabre: The Return Visit presented by Happenstance Theatre will play through November 13 at Baltimore Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston Street, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, call the Baltimore Theatre Project Box Office at 410-752-8558 or purchase them online.

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