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eye - 10.24.02


  ON STAGE  

SIDESHOW OF THE DAMNED ****

Featuring Steve Ross, Richard Alan Campbell, Kimwun Perehinec, Jason Charters, Rebecca Northan. Written by Eric Woolfe. Directed by Michael Waller. To Nov. 9. The Tim Sims Playhouse, 56 Blue Jays Way. $15. 416-343-0011.

Eric Woolfe has proven his knack for the strange and eerie with his previous delights Grendelmaus and the aptly titled The Strange & Eerie Memoirs of Billy Wuthergloom. He writes like Edward Gorey drew and with Sideshow of the Damned camps up a quartet of penny dreadfuls with blacker-than-pitch laughs at the expense of some doomed and, very often, disemboweled characters.

This is the second go-round of Sideshow, which played to raves last summer, then as now under the direction of Michael Waller. The stories, which divide 16 characters among four constantly on-the-change actors, are familiar to any horror buff, but each comes with its own comic twists. A loser learns a hard lesson about genies in bottles, dumb teenagers tamper with dark forces, con artists become the conned, and a young couple run afoul of a mad scientist. It's silly, gory fun, performed on the sparsest of stages, with few props, just a little sleaze and lots of red streamers standing in for blood.

You've got to admire a play that gets laughs from oblique references to H.P. Lovecraft, and Sideshow is undeniably grim and funny, even if the bloodletting gets a little repetitive after the third or fourth victim is ripped to pieces. The cast also seemed uncomfortable with their near-empty house last Friday night, waiting on laughs that apparently weren't as big as they expected.

But the lulls are made up for by the excellent Steve Ross as the host and circus barker of this sinister big top. It's too bad we don't get more of him. Ross rhymes off such deliciously poisonous lines, with such over-the-top malevolence and glee, even Vincent Price would cackle in approval. SEAN DAVIDSON