Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Haunted Bookshop: Guaranteed to scare you lit-less!

Because we only recently started our blog, I will, from time to time, recount notable past events from earlier in the year.

This Halloween The Raconteur decided to do a "Haunted Bookshop." This involved closing the store down at five, covering the windows with black garbage bag plastic, pulling and dispensing cobwebs from big balls of fluff, and frantically rehearsing a handful of freshly kitted non-actors in preparation for our re-opening at six. The shelves in the shop are looming, eight feet tall, and the corridors they create were curtained off with black blinds. Customers were led in by the only legitimate actor, good friend/shop docent Jeff Maschi, sporting an English accent and dressed as Doyle's Scotland Yard dick, Inspector Lestrade, who appeared in several of the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Well, that was the plan anyway; he ended up looking more like Kato than Lestrade (the eye mask was his idea). The store overheads were turned off, leaving the shop to be lit soley by the skittish beam of Jeff's Mag Lite. Larry and John had different ideas about what type of music would be suitable. They respectively suggested Bela Bartok and Karlheinz Stockhausen, but ultimately I settled on a cheapo CD from Variety Village (a nearby five-and-dime) of thumping, discordant noise-music, punctuated throughout with clanks and howls and screams. Patrons were led in groups of five to the various curtained tableaus, where Jeff would read a short summary of the story from which each character was drawn (summaries are included and follow pics), before peeling back the drape. Our costumed participants, theatrically underlit by red or blue clamp lights, would then stage a brief scene, or quote a line from said story.

First up was Larry aka The Masque of Red Death.

The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allen Poe: The corrupt Prince Prospero invites several dozen of the local nobility to his castle for protection against an oncoming plague, the Red Death. The local peasantry, or anyone that the prince suspects of being infected by the plague, are killed by crossbow fire outside the castle walls. Prospero orders his guests to attend a masked ball, with the stipulation that no one is to wear red. At the ball, amidst a general atmosphere of debauchery and depravity, Prospero notices the entry of a mysterious masked stranger dressed head-to-toe in the forbidden color, his face a grinning skull. When Prospero confronts the stranger, the prince falls down dead.

Larry rose slowly from a wooden chair (that rather resembled a klismos), hoisted high a skull-headed cane, and rasped, "Blood was its Avatar and its seal --the redness and the horror of blood."

Next was Steve R. playing the hideous Gwynplaine.

The Man Who Laughs by Victor Hugo: Gwynplaine is the son of a British nobleman who has offended an evil king. As revenge for his father's treachery, the king calls upon the skills of a surgeon associated with a band of feared Gypsies, The Comprachicos, and a permanent smile is carved onto the face of the boy, who is later adopted by a showman and eventually becomes a successful, if grotesque, clown. "Comprachicos" is a name invented by Hugo and is based on the Spanish word for "child-buyers." They make their living by mutilating and disfiguring children, who are then forced to beg for alms and perform as carnival freaks. This character was one of the chief inspirations for Batman's arch-nemesis The Joker.

As Jeff drew the curtain, Steve cackled and crowed, convulsing maniacally as he slowly unwrapped the black scarf that had heretofore hid his rictus grin.

Third was Marvin, an ostensibly indisposed manimal splayed flat on a lab table, a white sheet pulled to his chin.

The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells: On an idyllic South Seas island, an obsessed scientist conducts profane experiments in evolution, eventually establishing himself as providence to a race of mutated manimals who worship their maker. But the garden of paradise soon turns into Hell itself when Moreau's nightmarish hybrids rise up in savage rebellion against their god.

Jeff waved in the attendees, ordering them to "gather round," easing their apprehension with repeated remarks of "he's unconscious" and "the straps are strong." They tentatively encircled the table. Jeff produced a stethoscope and proceeded to check Marv's beat and pulse."Lean in ladies and gentlemen, I assure you, it's quite safe." As the group's huddle tightened, Marv suddenly roared to life, barking mad (literally), his face all snarls and snaps.

Next, it's around the cashier counter to the piano, yes we have a piano, where shop friend and trained pianist John W. sat pounding out appropriately baroque compositions (we snuck in John's tabletop Casio to better simulate a pipe organ), while growling incomprehensible threats (which apparently included the slightly fetishistic "I want to eat the dirt between your toes").

The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux: A 1910 gothic novel in which a mad, horribly deformed composer, known as the "opera ghost", terrorizes an opera house, making his home in the dank catacombs beneath it.

Then, The Gallery of Horrors, painted by Larry and Steve E., which included a fine picture of a famous clown who was poisoned by his own make-up.

And finally, Steve E. as Edgar Allen Poe.

Best known for his tales of mystery and the macabre, including The Tell-tale Heart and The Masque of the Red Death, Edgar Allen Poe published The Raven in 1845 to instant success. But only four years later, on October 3, 1849, Poe was found on the streets of Baltimore delirious. Poe was never coherent long enough to explain how he came to be in his dire condition, and, oddly, was wearing clothes that were not his own. Some sources say Poe's final words were "Lord help my poor soul." Poe suffered from bouts of depression and madness throughout his life, before finally dying on Oct 7, at the age of 40. The cause of his death is undetermined and has been attributed, at various times, to alcohol, drugs, cholera, rabies, tuberculosis, heart disease, and suicide.
Ten chairs were set up in the back of the store for his performance. The idea was, as Steve recited The Raven, the audience would mellow, lulled into a sort of false sense of didatic security, while the rest of the "monsters" surreptitiously advanced. This worked out rather well. Indeed, the hoots and hollers of these other characters, suddenly erupting at audience elbow, appeared to cause much consternation. Everyone was then herded out the back, where Mike and Cheryl waited with Halloween themed refreshments.

At eleven o'clock we gave our last tour, then repaired to The Cornerstone (a jazz bar across the street from the shop) for some pints. Again, with the exception of Jeff, these were non-actors, and they were understandably aflutter with the success of the night (all told, there were about sixty people). The evening was pleasantly crisp and we sat outside on The Cornerstone's back terrace. Larry ordered his typical house red, and Leon, who dropped by in time to catch the last tour, had a negroni. A lanky lush named Wade or Wayne, wearing a ball cap emblazoned with some moldy marketing slogan: Do the Dew or, maybe, Think Outside the Bun, beerily proffered personal opinions regarding who among us he liked. Very few, as it turned out. He didn't like Steve R.'s face, Leon's politics, or Larry's attitude. But John? To John (who inexplicably identified himself as George) he offered the moon ("You want the moon? Just say the word and I'll throw a lasso around it and pull it down.") Well, at least a Blue Moon (with a wedge of citrus) or, failing that, a shrimp dinner. At some point, Wade/Wayne, reeking of keg hose and, though in his fifties, cheap high school cologne (like AXE), wandered back inside and apparently did something that resulted in his ejection. The dreaded 86. As he walked past, fretting his expulsion, Larry offered his condolences, "Better luck next time, chum." Prompting Wade/Wayne to toss over his shoulder a final salutation: "Fuck you."


Anonymous said...

I hope you do a haunted bookshop next year. It was such a fun thing to do in town.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the last post. I missed it this year, but can't wait to attend next year. How exciting!