MBS Productions resurrects Theatre of Death


Seven plays, one theme, all in less than two hours — That’s what you get in MBS Productions’ Theatre of Death, on stage through Nov. 8 at the Stone Cottage Theatre in Addison.

“Theatre of Death” is a collection of plays from the genre known as “Teatro Breve” — or Brief Theatre — that began in Medieval Spain, explains Mark-Brian Sonna, the MBS — and the artistic director — of MBS Productions. The popularity of Teatro Breve had died out by the early 1900s, he explains, but the genre was rediscovered by modern playwrights who began to revive Brief Theatre about a decade ago.

Sonna says he always takes a moment to explain to Theatre of Death audiences that Teatro Breve originated as a form of street theater. Performers would clear a small area to act out a short play then collect tips from those who had stopped to watch. “There was basically no set, except for maybe a chair or a table, limited costuming, and it was customarily performed barefoot and in natural light,” Sonna says. “In our production, we honor those traditions, and we will be presenting the show by candlelight only.”

MBS Productions first presented Theatre of Death in October 2004, Sonna said. Each version includes short works centered around the theme of death, as befits the Halloween season.

The production was an annual event for the first years, but in 2012, it shifted to a triennial schedule, he noted. Each time it is presented, Sonna includes different plays, choosing from “the vast cannon of Spanish language plays as well as some contemporary works written in this style,” he said. “We have produced plays from Peru, Italy, Mexico and even from the United States, reflecting the ever-growing popularity of this ancient theatrical form.”

This year is no exception. This year’s line-up includes two plays from the 14th century, one from around 1550 and one from around 1660. The other three are modern plays, with two of them being brand new, including one Sonna himself wrote.

On top of that, two of the plays have distinctly gay plots, including one from 1550. Yes, a gay play from 1550.

The Mask, written by Lope de Rueda circa 1550, is a bawdy comedy about a simpleton who shows his boss what he believes to be a strange mask that he found. It is, in fact, something much more gruesome than a mask and the boss man had a hand in its diabolical origins. This will be a world premier of this translation of the play, and Sonna says that the dialogue and interaction between the simpleton and his boss throw a decidedly gay tint to the play.

The other gay play is A Date With Mick, a brand new play by Thomas Bertino, in which a casual hook-up between two men, seeming strangers, takes a very brutal twist. Sonna won’t say much more in an effort to preserve the shocking surprise twist of this world premiere production, but he does say it is sure to keep the audience on edge.

This year’s Theatre of Death also includes the world premiere of Sonna’s own The Haunt, about a husband and wife having a late-night discussion about her infidelity; world premiere of this translation of Romance of Count Alarcos, an anonymous 14th century work; a world premiere of this translation of The Fool by Juan Matos Fragoso (circa 1660); and an encore performance of MBS Production’s world premiere of Alejandro de la Costa’s 2004 play, 13 Minutes.

The seven plays are bracketed by incantations, Sonna explains: one at the beginning to summon the spirit of death, and another at the end to release that same spirit of death. There is also a 15-minute intermission. Due to subject matter, violence and language, the show is rated R.

There will be two special shows: On Halloween night, Oct. 31, all audience members will receive a trick-or-treat bag and there will be a costume contest at intermission. On Dia de los Muertos, Nov. 1, at 2 p.m., there will be special refreshments served at intermission.

— Tammye Nash

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 23, 2015.