The Incubus Archives
Local Arts Reviews
Reviewed by Robert Faires, Fri., Oct. 18, 2002
The Incubus Archives: Dreaming EvilThe Off Center, through Oct. 20
Running Time: 1 hr, 40 min
Welcome to the creep show, where the world's largest collection of criminal artifacts awaits your inspection in the chamber of horrors of your choice. Do you dare view the Incubus Archives in the close confines of the Hag's Cave, haven of demon worshippers and witches, or before the blood-hued curtains in the shrine to Hitler's Pillow? Have you the nerve to spend the evening in the company of Jack the Ripper or to stare into the haunted mirror of Bunny's Dressing Room?
This Rude Mechanicals/Hyde Park Theatre co-production comes at you with the lurid promise of a carnival sideshow, and as you wend your way through Leilah Stewart's labyrinthine installation of a set, past lockers containing animal bones and curled photos of nameless individuals (were they victims, you wonder?), you may feel the familiar shiver of anticipation, when you think you're about to come in contact with oddities of nature so freakish, so monstrous, that they must be removed from society and shrouded in darkness.
But in the true spirit of the sideshow, The Incubus Archives doesn't really show you much in the way of blood-stained murder weapons or ghoulish keepsakes, and what it does reveal smacks of carny gimmickry, such as a thimble allegedly used by Hitler's mother or the Führer's pillow, which can supposedly answer questions about one's future but which proves to be about as clairvoyant as a Magic 8-Ball. The tour guides may affect the look of notorious killers like Ed Gein, but they fess up to being fakers almost as soon they appear. Even the archives owner, a Mrs. Wilma Duncan, who inherited this macabre assemblage from her father, admits to being in it for the bucks and rattles off her midway barker spiels with weary cynicism.
Still, just because the archives are a sham doesn't mean there isn't anything to see. The people who belong to this space -- Mrs. Duncan, the guides Bunny, Flea, and Mack, the custodian Malcolm, and a pair of mysterious women -- are an odd lot, and they move in and out of the four rooms spinning strange tales of the archives and their own unnerving lives. While they may not lead you anywhere physically, they do lead you places psychically: to the home of a man obsessed with collecting the detritus of evil, to the surreal landscape of dreams and nightmares, possibly even into the mind of a murderer, if the confessions of a man whose demeanor slides between mental retardation and cool intellect may be believed.
Under flickering lights, these figures speak of dreams and mind control, of being slaves to other forces: personal impulses, the desires of others, the will of beings beyond this world. Indeed, their passages into and out of these rooms appears to be governed by the sounding of bells and by answers they receive to questions asked of the audience. Are they in the grip of some greater power? Is that the source of evil? Or is it the mind exerting control, manipulating information to try to comprehend humanity's horrors, as in a dream?
Well, playwright David Hancock, director Vicky Boone, and the show's designers have certainly crafted a dreamscape -- in which subjects seem to bubble from the darkness of the subconscious, where bizarre images erupt into view, sometimes again and again. The element of chance woven into the script charges the atmosphere with unpredictability and sometimes-unsettling repetition. Sound bleeds through the space so that we hear snatches of tales told in our room repeated elsewhere, with the effect of ghostly voices echoing in a haunted house or pieces of an earlier dream inexplicably resurfacing in the mind.
In one sense, it doesn't matter where you choose to watch the show. The actors -- who are as fierce, committed, and willing to walk the edge as they come -- come to you, and almost all make repeat visits to every room. Then again, choosing the room makes all the difference. The order in which you see the characters and their contact with you will be unique to the chamber you selected. So it comes back to choice. The figures who haunt the Incubus Archives are doomed to circle the same four rooms, spewing their weird, sordid stories to anyone who will listen, while you are free to wander into the night and ponder what is in your control.