The Mountain View Mausoleum And Cemetery is once again the undisputed star of this year’s ninth-annual Wicked Lit, a venue so mysterious and spooky that audiences keep coming back year after year for the three-and-a-half-hour indoor-outdoor Halloween-season extravaganza.

Like the eight other Wicked Lits before it, Wicked Lit 2017 has its audience traveling from columbarium to chapel to crypts (both indoor and out), though the order in which you see The Damned Thing, The Open Door, and Thoth’s Labyrinth will depend on which of the three color-coded groups of 25 or so you get assigned to.

However sequenced, each Wicked Lit 9.0 experience begins (and groups reunite between plays) at Liliom (written by Kerry Kazmierowicztrimm and directed by James Castle Stevens), where inhabitants of this way station to heaven-or-hell provide open-air preshow-midshow entertainment.

Very very very loosely “inspired by the play of the same name by Ferenc Molnár,” Liliom has its residents—Todd Andrew Ball’s The Mayor, Jennifer Novak Chun’s Widow Saverini, Alec Gaylord’s Carter Druse, and Tosca Minotto’s Mrs. Bodman—recounting how each met his or her grisly end.

Only Carter’s tale is dead serious, the others a good deal more laugh-inspiring, especially Minotto’s hysterically hot-and-cold romantic casualty and Chun’s “That’s a spicy meatball-a” dog-mauled widow, with Ball and Gaylord providing burlesque-ready artificial-hands shtick along the way.

Ambrose Bierce’s The Damned Thing, adapted by Jeff G. Rack and directed by Sebastian Muñoz, has corpse Hugh Morgan (Ian Heath) taking a major role in Inspector Hern’s (John T. Cogan) investigation into his mysterious death, the victim of some otherworldly “damned thing” while out hunting with best friend William Harper (Eric Keitel). Expect a journey from Mountain View’s Chapel of the Gardens to the outdoor cemetery itself, with repressed homosexual longings popping along the way.

Margaret Oliphant’s The Open Door, adapted by Kirsten Brandt and directed by Paul Millet, spotlights Army Colonel Henry Mortimer (Michael Perl), freshly returned to Edinburgh from colonial India along with wife Charlotte (Jena Hunt) and son Roland (Bradley Bundlie) only to find the towheaded tot fallen victim to a mystifying illness of perhaps supernatural origins. John Patrick Daly’s Mr. Jarvis and Bagley, Hunt’s Mrs. Jarvis, Richard Large’s Admiral Smith and Reverend Moncreif, and Brian David Pope’s Doctor Simpson play supporting roles in the Victorian melodrama.

Best of the trio (because it takes its source material and itself the least seriously) is Thoth’s Labyrinth (adapted by Jonathan Josephson and directed by Darin Anthony), whose suave host Antony Woodbury (Kevin Dulude) introduces us to three pairs of 1972 Altadena adventurers—Dr. Zahi Mataha (Joe Camareno) and Morgan Geryl (Sawyer Fuller), Professor Katriana Van de Velde (LizAnne Keigley) and Pop (Christopher Jewell Valentin), and Guy Patrick Ratinckx (Dan Billet) and Anuket “Annie” Abbas (Morgan Zenith)—as they head off to Egypt in search of the magical, mystical Book Of Thoth. (Expect your color-coded group to be divided into three for this one, some incestuous feelings between half-siblings, and one great big puppetry surprise.)

All twenty cast members give committed, appropriately heightened performances, with Ball’s, Chun’s, and Minotto’s comedy shtick providing a refreshing a change of pace before and between plays.

Not only does Wicked Lit 2017 allow its participants to discover (or rediscover) Mountain View Mausoleum And Cemetery’s architectural and design wonders, kudos go out once again to those who have transformed the one-of-a-kind venue’s many halls and chambers and nooks and crannies into assorted imaginative stage settings.

Production designers once again outdo themselves this year, with oohs and aahs due set and EFX designer Rack, lighting designers Darrell Clark and Hilda Kane, resident costume designer Christine Cover Ferro, properties designer McKenzie R. Eckels, puppetry designer-creator Joe Seely, sound designers Drew Dalzell and Noelle Hoffman, production builder Kurtis Bedford, and wig and makeup whizzes Judi Lewin and Julie Pound, whose creative expertise you won’t see the like of this or any other year except at Wicked Lit, its 2017 incarnation produced by Unbound Productions: Millet, Rack, and Josephson.

TaShauna Peterman is production manager and Benjamin Scuglia is production stage manager. Megan Crockett, Heather Gonzalez, Sarah Resnick, and Laura Steinroeder are stage managers and Mara Aguilar, Eddie Gallogly, Odanis Perez, and Amanda Sauter are assistant stage managers. Meghan Lewis is swing. Tessa Willshire understudies Mortimer. Gabrieal Griego is Thoth’s Labyrinth assistant director.

Mystery theater lovers won’t want to miss Wicked Lit 2017. There’s truly no other show in town even remotely like it.

Note: Wicked Lit is not for those who have difficulty walking. Attendees are advised to wear comfortable walking shoes and watch their step in the near darkness often around them.

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Mountain View Mausoleum & Cemetery Altadena, 2400 Fair Oaks Avenue, Altadena.

–Steven Stanley
October 18, 2107
Photos: Daniel Kitayama

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