Saturday, May 6, 2023

"The Tourist Trap" by Ghoulish Delights at the Crane Theater

If you're excited about the Twin Cities Horror Festival, which just announced the lineup for its 12th season this October, you might want to check out The Tourist Trap at The Crane Theater (which will also host TCHF). Ghoulish Delights is remounting their 2014 Minnesota Fringe Festival hit (which I didn't see), and it feels very much like an appetizer for the 11 days of onstage horror that is TCHF. Frequent readers of this blog may recall that horror isn't my favorite genre, so some of the blood and violence was a bit much for me, but what I do love is this talented cast, the creepily effective storytelling of this show, and the exploration of small town life and our obsession with cults and serial killers. If you're looking for a little fantastical horror to take your mind off the very real scary things in our world, The Tourist Trap is the show for you (continuing through May 20).

This story takes place in a museum in South Dakota dedicated to a cult leader and serial killer from the late 19th Century. In a cool bit of interactiveness, the audience is told to enter the theater through the stage, where we can check out the displays of old timey weapons and General Custer memorabilia. When the play starts, we're introduced to three childhood friends visiting the museum with their friends and family. Joelle (Ariel Pinkerton) has stayed in town, while Patricia (Alicia Lane) and Troy (Jay Kistler), who used to date BTW, have moved out of this small town to live their lives. Patricia is visiting with her new boyfriend Ray (Sean Dillon), of whom Troy is jealous and suspicious, prompting this reunion and visit to the local museum. This site of gruesome murders (maybe six, maybe hundreds) has long been a point of curiosity, but only recently opened as a full museum. Along with Joelle's brother Dale (Merit Burgett), the group arrives at the museum and meets the owner Dianne (Shanan Custer) and volunteer Sheila (Catherine Hansen). They're proud locals, in the kind of small town where if you moved there when you were two years old, you're still considered an outsider. That's the set-up, but I'm not going to tell you what happens from there, as the surprise twists and turns are the fun of the show. I'll just say that if you ever visit a museum about a serial killer and you're asked to strap in to the chair he used to torture people, just say no. Trust me, nothing good will come of it.

Tim Uren wrote and directed this piece, with just the right mix of dark humor and scary violence, real and grounded characters with some fantastical happenings. The only flaw in the storytelling is the intermission forced into this otherwise Fringe-length show; all it does is interrupt the delicious tension that was building and take the audience out of the story. The characters caught in this "tourist trap" don't get to escape from the situation, so why should the audience?

The cast is really fun to watch, as almost all of them get to play the dark side of their characters, revealing layers that we don't suspect at the beginning of the show. It's especially fun to watch Shanan Custer, usually so full of joy and light, play against type as a weird dark murder-obsessed oddball. In addition to the museum display cases, the set also includes a front desk with snacks and souvenirs, and a few sections of wooden walls hinting at the old historic building we're in (scenic design by Devyn Becker). Oh, and did I mention there's blood? A lot of blood. And torture devices.

Ghoulish Delights is also behind The Mysterious Old Radio Listening Society, featuring Tim Uren and Shanan Custer, along with Joshua English Scrimshaw and Eric Webster. They perform old timey radio scripts live using foley equipment, and can next be seen at the Bryant Lake Bowl on May 28 and Crooners on June 16. In the meantime, you can visit The Tourist Trap at the Crane weekends through May 20, but remember - don't sit in the chair!