Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Shocktoberfest 17: Pyramid of Freaks
The Hypnodrome
Review by Richard Connema | Season Schedule

Also see Patrick's review of Titanic and Richard's reviews of Katya: A Bittersweet 90s Symphony and Hedwig and the Angry Inch

James Jeske and Natalie Demchenko
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Since 1997, the Thrillpeddlers troupe has been presenting their unique brand of shockwave and fetish in the Hypnodrome on 10th Street under the freeway in San Francisco. Every October around Halloween they present Shocktoberfest, which consists of four dramas that will shock you. As far as I know that, this is one of the few companies in this country that presents Grand Guignol fright plays that were so popular in Paris in the early 20th century.

Shocktoberfest 17: Pyramid of Freaks includes three terror-filled dramas and one intense fear-filled musical by Scrumbly Koldewyn which has every gay fetish in the book. In short, scandalous plays ranging from pure camp to grisly, ludicrous presentations. This year's show isn't the most outrageous of the Thrillpeddlers' shows I have seen. It's pretty standard form. The company still has great effects that are gruesome, such as lifelike eviscerated organs.

A group of musicians warms up the audience with words and music with John Flaw on guitar leading a small band called the Vagabondage. This leads into "The Haunted House," a classic Grand Guignol thriller by Marc Bonis-Charancle that was probably shown in early 20th century Paris. Expertly directed by Russell Blackwood, "The Haunted House" features seven characters dressed in 18th century costumes; they are invited to a neglected mansion with a ghastly history. Headed by The Lawyer (Kai Brothers), they drink champagne and talk about the house's past. They are supposed to hear at the stroke of midnight moans from a person who committed suicide. They hear nothing, but suddenly, Fulbert (James Jeske), a scruffy old man who says he is the owner of the house, appears. Suddenly, a wild-eyed woman appears, who Fulbert says is his wife Genevieve (Natalie Demchenko), who went mad. It all leads to violence. Kai Brothers, James Jeske, and Natalie Demchenko give impressive performances in this talky place. It is followed by Crystal Why singing with vigorous vocal chops "Mister," with music and lyrics by Cab Covey.

Next is a modern morality tale probing the horror and parasitic dipsomania called "The Hellgrammite Method," which William Selby wrote for an episode of "The Twilight Zone" in 1988. He also adapted the play for Thrillpeddlers. It involves a drunk named Miley Judson (Dan Foley) who goes to Dr. Eugene Maddox (CJ Smith) for the Hellgrammite Method, a cure for alcoholism by taking a pill. All hell breaks loose after Miley takes the pill. Russell Blackwood splendidly directs this also.

After intermission, we are treated to Scrumbly Koldewyn's original new musical called "Demon Train to Sodom," which is the best of the bunch. Briefly, it's about Mother Nature's farm stand where the fertilizer for organic crops includes compost. I won't say what organic crops are turned into compost but you will never want to eat organic food again. This is one uninhibited musical that features a large cast of 14 actors in gaudy costumes and various sexual acts. The cast is headed by talented actor Earl Alfred Paus, who sings with vibrant vocal cords several of the original songs. What should happen to him shouldn't happen to a dog. This musical is beautifully directed by Noah Haydon.

The final horrifying drama is "Pyramid of Freaks," a world premiere black comedy by Rob Keefe. It features a sordid strong man (played stunningly by David Bicha) in a carnival in Chowchilla who is involved in cannibalism. It also features inter-species breeding involving the Dog Children played by Earl Alfred Paus and Alix Feinsod who are terrific. Noel Hayton marvelously directs the piece.

The traditional black-out show ends the performance, involving witches and goblins. I was pleasantly titillated by Shocktoberfest 17.

Shocktoberfest 17: Pyramid of Freaks runs through November 19, 2016, at The Hypnodrome, 575 10th Street, San Francisco For tickets call 415-377-4202 or visit

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