Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Spotlight on Molotov Theatre Group’s Extremities

By • Oct 28th, 2013 • Category: Interviews
Extremities by William Mastrosimone
Molotov Theatre Group: (Info) (Web)
DC Arts Center, Washington DC
Through November 3rd
Reviewed October 22nd, 2013
Warning: May not be suitable for those under 13.

True horror lies in the human psyche.

Molotov Theatre Group is devoted to preserving and reviving the traditions of Grand Guignol–the classic shock theater popular from the end of the 19th century through the middle of the 20th that presented short, gruesome plays with a particular acting style and vivid special effects.

In fact, the professional 501(c)(3) theater has presented many of the original scripts shown at the Paris theater of that name. But Molotov (named for the cocktail) is also pursuing contemporary works.

These include the theatre’s current production of William Mastrosimone’s Extremities, an intense psychological drama about the aftermath of an attempted rape when the intended victim turns the tables on her attacker.

What links such modern works to the older ones is that they focus on “human monsters,” rather than supernatural ones, said Alex Zavistovich, co-artistic director and founding member of Molotov.

Even the original Grand Guignol theatre in Paris never dealt with the stuff of Victorian nightmares–such as Dracula and Frankenstein.

“The plays, often ripped from the headlines–were about misanthropy, psychological aberration, and criminal elements,” he pointed out. “In that sense, Extremities is perfect for us.”

The play raises difficult questions about acts of violence and the justifiable rage they inspire, especially in what has been called “the rape culture” in America.

“The main characters are pushed to extremes,” said Zavistovich. “It’s an interesting study of what happens to two personalities, hinging on the failed sexual attack.”

Extremities is more of a psychological thriller than the theatre’s usual productions. But it does reflect the four principles of Grand Guignol: fourth-wall ambiguity, moments of horrors, distortion of time, and a red herring.

“We’re not using a lot of blood in this show, but we are prolonging the moments of horror and the mind games, so there’s more tension,” he explained.

Every part of the theatre space is being used, including the audience, to draw viewers into the play’s constricted world.

True to the human monster element, the would-be rapist Ray (called Raul in the original) is not a stereotypically hulking, brooding villain. He insinuates his way into the house of Marjorie, his intended victim, with innocuous questions–then seems to turn on a dime.

“If you can find the human element in the character and present it that way, its much scarier,” said Zavistovich, who plays Ray.

Sherry Berg is Marjorie. Jennifer Osborn and special guest star Alexia Poe are her friends, Terry and Patricia.

Co-artistic director Michael Wright directed.

What people also may not realize about Grand Guignol is that it often took a Hot and Cold Shower approach to the way plays were put together: Comedy or sexual farce was introduced in between suspense dramas or horrific plays to give the audiences a little bit of relief, or “palate cleanser.”

“We’re looking at farces and comedies down the road in the same vein,” Zavistovich explained. “The perfect show would be Arsenic and Old Lace, which is fast, zany, has humor but also horror elements.”

Musicals suitable for Molotov’s black box space are also considered. Three years ago the theatre, founded in 2007, presented sold-out performances of The Horrors of Online Dating by a local playwright.

Extremities is Molotov’s first production after a yearlong hiatus to overhaul the company, DC’s only horror- and suspense-related theatre.

The co-artistic director admitted that even in an era when horror and slash films are popular, the theatre has experienced some flak about its choice of fare.

“It’s been labeled ‘gratuitous,’ and I suppose that’s true,” Zavistovich said. “Molotov’s co-founders had an alternative mind-set, and wanted to point to the human condition–head on. So for us, Grand Guignol made perfect sense.”

After all, the theatre’s new tagline is “Art imitates death.”

Tagged as: , ,

This article can be linked to as:

has been writing features, previews, and reviews about theater and the arts for some 25 years. A native New Yorker, she is a recent transplant to Maryland.

Comments are closed.