Crazyface brings Clive Barker to the stage

How much does Paul von Stoetzel love horror author Clive Barker?

"I've got two Clive Barker tattoos on my arm as part of my collage," he says.

The theater and film director turns his attention to Crazyface, one of Barker's plays, for Shadow Horse Theatre Company (best known for presenting the various "Drinking Game" film adaptations at the Bryant-Lake Bowl).


"I was 14 or 15 when I first read the Books of Blood in order. The first story in there was 'Midnight Meat Train.' I couldn't believe the level of sincerity and brutality. His stories are so sincere. It's like a Coen brothers film. He adheres to his own rules in the stories. Barton Fink should be the most ridiculous, absurd film ever, but it works because it adheres to its own rules."

Barker is likely best known as the writer and director of the first two Hellraiser films (based on his novella The Hellbound Heart) and the creator of Pinhead. He's also an extremely successful horror and fantasy author, with numerous best-selling books to his name over the past three decades.

Before that, he cut his teeth as a creator writing and acting in his native Liverpool. Crazyface comes from that era, and offers a real wallop of a challenge. Set in the 16th century, the show features an epic adventure, tons of violence, and a final secret that will stick with you for a long time after the show is done.

Von Stoetzel first experienced Crazyface when Joel Sass directed the piece for his old Mary Worth company. "I didn't realize Barker had written plays until I saw it," he says.

Though the play is flexible in how it can be produced -- a simple black box can suffice -- von Stoetzel and Shadow Horse wanted the epic to be represented onstage. There are 20 actors who play 50 different speaking roles. This includes Andy Schnabel in the title role and Matt Saxe as the main baddy, Mengo.

"Mengo is the ultimate evil in this play. He puts all of the action into motion. Saxe walked into the part and knew who his character was and what level of evil was needed," von Stoetzel says. "You really can't ask for anything more as a director."

Finding the right tone is also important for the show. "It can be a purely comedic play that is more about the clowning and the comedy, or you can focus on the horror and atrocities. In the background, thousands of people die," says von Stoetzel.

That mixture is often present in work by Barker, whose horror tales frequently are mixed with the fantastic; and whose fantasy stories always have a hint of horror.

So while you will find clowning in this production, you will also get more than a taste of the terrors, like the Spanish Inquisition. "One of the locations we come back to is Mengo's torture gardens. It's like hell on Earth," says von Stoetzel, who happened to be rocking a Slayer Reign in Blood T-shirt during the interview.

The piece features plenty of stage violence. "I believe in the reality of stage violence. Violence is ugly and nasty. It is not funny or cute. I'm a big believer in that," von Stoetzel says. "Barker has that grit and realism in his writing. Every character in the stories has a true motivation. These are bizarre and totally strange landscapes. I don't believe it unless there are characters I believe in."

All of that should combine for a memorable evening at the theater. "If they are pulled out of the story, I am failing as a director," he says.


Crazyface Through July 26 Nimbus Theater 1517 Central Ave. NE, Minneapolis $15-$20 For tickets and more information, call 612-432-2896 or visit online.

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