Les Innocents, a world premiere offering by (re) discover theatre, is not lacking in ambition. From the pre-show immersion involving a palm reader and two street musicians to the rather novel way the audience is seated, this is a production willing to take risks. Unfortunately not all of these risks pay off. Case in point is the opening scene which, due to its staging in a cramped stairway landing, is just not visible to half the audience. This is immediately followed by the play’s hero, Gui (Emilie Modaff), leading the audience into the creepy Paris catacombs. The audience walks with them over the bones of the departed (paper cut-outs I think) until finally meeting up with an eccentric care taker whose body is covered with a map of the catacombs. Some shouting ensues and then Gui leads the paying customers to another room where a collection of zombies wait to eat everyone. Actually no, that was the haunted house I went to last week. Here they start off as zombies but then after a bit of dancing/contortion wake up in order to spend the next eighty minutes or so talking about the last moments of their lives. Gui meanwhile hopes to reunite with an ex-lover. Oh, and some of the undead are also musicians (quite talented musicians actually- moments they sing are too few and far between).
Created and directed by Ann Kreitman, the production has its winning moments. Besides featuring some truly lovely voices, Les Innocents succeeds most when served up as a campy haunted house/melodrama. Even the theater space, a delightfully grimy stage up high in the rafters of the Preston Bradley Center, contributes to the production’s authenticity. But the ponderous and often repetitive script sucks the fun right out of the event with the clearly talented ensemble spending far too much time contemplating the obvious. A smart dance choreography by Mary O’Rourke livens things up a bit but not enough to mask the exceedingly slow pacing of the performance. Sometimes maybe it’s best to just let the dead sleep.
Bottom line: Les Innocents is somewhat recommended for its creepy vibe and willingness to take risks (even if many of these risks do not pay off). Performances are Thursday through Sunday at 8 PM from now until November 4 at the Preston Bradley Center (941 West Lawrence) with tickets costing $30. To purchase tickets or for more information, go to rediscovertheatre.com.