A weekend of firsts is coming to Beatniks on Conkey in Hammond.
Laura Mazzuca Toops of Hobart directs her first production, “Fantome: An Evening of Ghosts and Gore,” from Sept. 3 to 5. The show features two one-act plays: “Chop-Chop! or The Guillotine” by Eugene Heros and Leon Abric and the world premiere of Toops’ “Crossing Over.”
“Actually this play has been ticking around in different forms for at least a year,” said Toops about “Crossing Over,” which originally was slated to premiere in October 2020 and be directed by Beatniks on Conkey creators Rip and Bonnie Johnson, but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It started out as a 10-minute play and I ended up expanding it to a one-act. I’ve been tinkering with it and fine-tuning it ever since. It’s fun to see something you’ve written come off the page and come to life.”
Beatniks on Conkey describes “Crossing Over” as “a contemporary comedy featuring a team of zany paranormal researchers trying to one-up each other and solve a 100-year-old murder — totally unaware of the ghosts themselves, who are right in their midst.”
“I’ve always been interested in the paranormal and supernatural. I grew up on stuff like ‘The Twilight Zone’ and movies like ‘The Haunting,’ the 1963 version,” Toops said.
“I love these paranormal shows. I think they’re hilarious more than anything and it’s interesting that they have the same recurring characters. They’re yelling at ghosts in different languages.
“I thought it would be funny if you had a group of ghost hunters bumbling around yelling at ghosts and the ghosts are literally sitting in the middle of the room and the ghost hunters are not able to see them.”
“Chop-Chop! or The Guillotine” hearkens to Grand Guignol, which Beatniks on Conkey describes as “the French ‘theater of horror’ popularized in Paris during the turn of the 20th century, characterized by plots centering on the bizarre and macabre.”
“Rip made this fantastic guillotine and it’s so scarily lifelike,” said Toops about the prop that she called “the star of the show.”
“‘The Guillotine’ was written in 1906 and, yet, it sounds remarkably contemporary. It’s like a French sex comedy with a weird twist so it’s very entertaining.”
“Chop-Chop! or The Guillotine” and “Crossing Over” feature Mark Aken of Griffith; Joycie Brantley of Hammond; Delaney Craig of Munster; Ana Fejes of Whiting; Tony Herman of Schererville; Jim McGrady of Lansing, Illinois; Diana Smoot of Gary’s Miller Beach neighborhood and Sandy Stotts of Munster.
“What’s so great about them is they’re very versatile. The fact that they’re able to switch on and off for these two very different plays — one is 1906 and the other is a contemporary play — is a test of their talent,” Toops said.
“We have a couple of very talented high school and a little older youngsters and they just do a great job. In the first play I didn’t use them too much because it’s a little bit of adult material but they’re great to play English tourists touring this chamber of horrors. They get to walk through and react to the action.”
“Fantome: An Evening of Ghosts and Gore,” which is assistant directed by Phil Myers of Munster and Linda Slankard of Cedar Lake, also features James Rhoten of Highland in “Chop-Chop! or The Guillotine.”
Toops’ first role at Beatniks on Conkey was in Hammond Community Theatre’s 2016 production of “The Christmas Spirit.”
“I just played the goofy character with the horrible Bronx accent. It was fun. I was hooked. In fact, people still call me ‘Aunt Rosemary,’” said Toops, who also has done assistant directing and backstage tech for other productions at Beatniks on Conkey.
“When I moved here about five years ago I didn’t realize northwest Indiana had such a vibrant community theater scene. It was a really pleasant surprise. Some friends of mine were involved and they got me involved. I’m on the board of Beatniks. It’s just been great.”
Although now focused on writing short plays, she is also an author and most recently cowrote with Jackey Neyman Jones “Growing Up with ‘Manos: The Hands of Fate:’ How I Was the Child Star of the Worst Movie Ever Made, and Lived to Tell the Story,” which was released in 2016.
‘Fantome: An Evening of Ghosts and Gore’
When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 3-4; 2 p.m. Sept. 5
Where: Beatniks on Conkey, 420 Conkey St., Hammond
Tickets: $15 (cash only at door); limited seating; reservations recommended
Jessi Virtusio is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.