A Bucket of Blood (February 1-March 4, 2012)

Theater Artists Olympia douses us in “A Bucket of Blood”

As grisly as the title sounds, this one’s a charmer

By Christian Carvajal

“A Bucket of Blood”: Believe it or not, the TAO production is a charmer. Courtesy TAO

Ads for Theater Artists Olympia’s A Bucket of Blood pose the question, “Who is Walter Paisley?” It’s unlikely you’ve ever seen Roger Corman’s 1959 B-movie original, so I’ll fill you in. Walter Paisley is a miserable busboy in a late-‘50s Beat club called the Yellow Door. He’s not the sharpest crayon in the box, frankly, but he wants to be an artist all the same. He idolizes Ginsberg wannabe Maxwell Brock (Ryan Holmberg) and moons after a local art enthusiast, Carla. When it becomes painfully obvious that his talents will never bloom without divine (diabolical?) intervention, he turns to the macabre as a shortcut to fame and hipster glory. “Inside every artist,” the poster warns, “lurks A MADMAN!” We note with irony the A in T-A-O.

Corman’s minor drive-in classic was shot for $50,000 in less than a week; a few weeks later, the same team shot the original Little Shop of Horrors on the very same sets. TAO’s production is a word-for-word performance of the original, which fell into public domain a few years ago. Like the original, its ending feels truncated – but hey, we see it marching up Seventh Avenue anyway, so who cares?

What TAO’s version has going for it is its obvious affection for the period, plus a surprising dash of humor. The movie was marketed as a comedy (“You’ll feel sick, sick, sick – from laughter!”), and the play includes little to no blood at all. Indeed, as horror tales go, this one’s downright family-friendly.

I’ve never commenced analyzing a production by extoling its props before, but these are first-rate. Michael Christopher and Cantrells Heather and Chris fill the stage with artwork ranging from engaging to nauseating, with special emphasis on Paisley’s unsettling efforts. Marko Bujeaud’s sound design is likewise fantastic (and phantasmic). Scene changes are choreographed with admirable speed and efficiency.

TAO performs in the basement of the Eagles’ Ballroom, so never has the term “underground theater” been more fitting. Still, this show is a perfect fit for the venue, even when a local band starts playing upstairs. It’s the kind of space that might have hosted a Yellow Door half a century ago. Even the dingy, cobwebbed ceiling feels right. I worried the wide set would be a hindrance, but director Pug Bujeaud blocks appropriately so we never feel cut off from the action. Her summer production will transplant Titus Andronicus into the demimonde of biker gangs, and we get the sense it’ll be right in her wheelhouse.

TAO’s ensemble includes shades of greenery, and while Ethan Bujeaud plays the role of a jealous artist impeccably, he’s too young to hang around a nightclub (even one devoted to spiked demitasses of espresso). But cool it, daddy-o: the effectiveness of Bucket’s props and lead performances carry the day. Former Riot to Follow spiritual leader Mark Alford’s direction of Bug prepared him well to play Paisley’s descent into madness, and real-life significant other Sam Cori is a pure delight as Carla. Her sultry rendition of “Fever” is a highlight of the show, perhaps even of the season. She really is one of our breakout talents, reminiscent of local fave Ingrid Pharris. I also dug James Bass’s return to the stage, Dave Beacham’s Toydarian patron, and the sexy, Brubeckian stylings of hep cats Matt Ackerman and Jason Leher.

As grisly as its title sounds, A Bucket of Blood is a charmer. At 12 measly dollars a ticket, it’d enliven any oddball date night. Check it out, cats and kits: it’s a stone gas.

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