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BROOKLYN GOES TO HELL

for The Brooklyn Paper
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While fiery furnaces, menacing torture devices and the prospect of eternal damnation may not seem as appealing as, say, heaven, to most of us, for one troupe of Williamsburg artists and performers, hell is not such a dreadful place.

Starting this weekend, mortal souls will have a chance to probe the shadowy underworld while raising hell on earth at the first-ever "Hell Festival" in Williamsburg.

This month-long series, sponsored by The Brick Theater Inc., brings together sinners, demons and a mishmash of performances in a tour de torment that will have audience members begging for salvation.

With more than 30 original theater productions, an inaugural gallery exhibition and a handful of musical performances, the festival weaves together multiple interpretations of hell through playful narratives, largely drawn from biblical stories, mythology and childhood folklore.

"Everyone brings their own personal version of hell into the space," Michael Gardner, co-artistic director of The Brick told GO Brooklyn. "Whether it is fiery furnaces or void and disillusionment, each performance or work is each artist’s individual nightmare."

The festival commences with a weekend-long group exhibition, titled "Six Layers of Hell," where monsters, ghouls and other creepy crawlers will demonize the space though a combination of video installations, paintings, sculptures and drawings.

Among the works on display are mythological self-portraits by Sherry Wong and drawings by Brian Dewan, who will accompany his work with storytelling and musical performances played on his own invention, an instrument called the "dewanatron."

"When we were looking for work, we wanted to find artists who had an original twist on hell," said Arianne Gelardin, co-curator of the exhibition. "Each artist creates a narrative, whether they are creating their own performance space or mythological world."

Naturally, agony and suffering will remain a prominent theme throughout the performances, which kick off Monday with a trio of new productions. But don’t let that frighten you. The combination of demon invocations, Satanic parodies and musings on the connections between hell and Jell-o promises to leave audience members in tears from bouts of unrelenting laughter.

"Blue Puppies in Hell," for instance, is an amusing, yet bizarre, tale by writer David Vininy about a talking blue dog’s encounters with the canine king of the underworld, Lew C. Frrrr. "Evil is Kewl: Satan’s Message to the Youth," written and directed by Alyssa Siemon, stages a Q&A with the almighty prince of darkness and explains why adolescence is a perfect time to immerse oneself in the Art of Evil.

And if you are really a glutton for pain, stick around for "Red Bastard is a Star," created by Eric Davis and Sue Morrison, and feel the wrath of this clownish demon as he torments the crowd with comedic insults and provocations.

"We really wanted to keep the performances playful and darkly comedic," said Jesi Khadivi, co-curator of the exhibition with Gelardin.

"The Hell Festival" is the first of The Brick’s annual summer festivals. As a new theater company - the theater house opened less than two years ago on Metropolitan Avenue - Gardner and co-artistic director Robert Honeywell were looking for something new and unusual to help kick off their summer events.

"We wanted to have a concept," Gardner said. "Something intriguing and unique. Hell seemed perfect. It is sexy and subversive and opens itself up to religious, theatrical and literary interpreta­tions."

Luckily, demons seem to be in supply this summer. When the theater company sent out a city-wide casting call in April, they fielded more than 60 applicants.

Many of the performances are original works debuting for the first time in New York City, such as "Blue Puppies in Hell" and "Martian Holiday" by John DeVore, which stars Honeywell as a psychologically tormented astronaut, abandoned on Mars and struggling to survive despite his isolation. Others have appeared at the NYCFringe Festival, the Woodstock Fringe Festival and off-off-Broadway in Manhattan. Coupled with multimedia works by local artists and musicians, the festival seeks to help create a cross-platform for visual art and performance.

"To me it seems like different art forms remain worlds apart," Honeywell said. "The festival is a way of cross-pollination."

Housed in a century-old garage, the playhouse opened in September 2002 and has produced more than a dozen productions since then. The location, Honeywell said, suits the up-and-coming theater.

"We found many of our performers do not live in Manhattan but around the corner in Williamsburg," he said, later adding, "It is easier to get here than to BAM."

The hellish festivities conclude on Aug. 22, with one last night of sinful indulgence at "The Carnival of Souls" where guests lurk around dressed as their favorite demonic icon, to menacing sounds of "hell-themed" soundtracks. "Cheap beer" will be served to help facilitate the proliferation of sins.

But be warned. There is no chance for salvation - at least not until next year.

"Redemption is next year’s festival. This year is suffering," Gardner said. "Although we may have a confessional booth."

 

"The Hell Festival" at The Brick Theater takes place from July 23 to Aug. 22 at 575 Metropolitan Ave. between Union Avenue and Lorimer Street in Williamsburg. Tickets are $10. For more information, call (718) 907-6189 or go to www.bricktheater.com.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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