Stage Struck Review

Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years

The Undead Laugh at Fremont Centre Theatre: “Von Bach” spoofs Hollywood and horror

JR Reed is the zombie title character, avoiding Maia Peters in "Von Bach" at Fremont Centre Theatre

JR Reed is the zombie title character, avoiding Maia Peters in “Von Bach” at Fremont Centre Theatre

What if there was a true story behind a classic horror film like the old Universal, Boris Karloff “Frankenstein”? What if it was as far off from the film version as Karloff is from Mary Shelley’s reanimated character? What if, like Frankenstein or Dracula, or any of the other baseline horror movies, it had been redone and redone and redone? What if someone was intent on getting back to the actual story line? What if the monster wasn’t dead, really?

Okay, that is as close as I can get to telling you what the clever and somewhat outrageous send-up of Hollywood movie-making, “Von Bach,” is about. The Next Arena has joined with Fremont Centre Theatre in South Pasadena to resurrect Owen Hammer’s very funny satire, based on dual Hollywood history themes. The first reflects on those actors who, like Karloff, Bela Lugosi, or Lon Chaney, age out of, but are synonymous with signature horror parts. The second involves the constant updating and twisting of those classic characters to meet a new audience.

In the admittedly silly story, Minna McPheeters (Maia Peters) has finally landed a job as a screenwriter, trying to resuscitate a film which is to be the “true story” of Von Bach, after decades of being chronicled as a bloody villain destined to remain undead. She will make his life one of love and loss instead, at least until she runs into resistance from the family of the actor most associated with the more stereotypical character (David Wilcox) intent on disrupting filming. And then there’s Von Bach himself (JR Reed), who really is undead, and very unhappy at his current reputation.

It’s all a lot of fun. Peters radiates a kind of wallflowerish sense of ambition, while Wilcox handles the pompous sponger with style. Reed radiates an earnest despair which makes the zombie doctor the most innocent and human character in the bunch. The funniest of this show has to be the elaborate collection of film clips Hammer, director Scott Rognlien, and Craig Kuehne created purportedly showing all the cinematic variations of the Von Bach franchise (my favorite: the Andy Warhol version).

Summer Herrick Stevens has a ball as the easily distracted studio executive, providing the most (if you’ll excuse the expression) biting commentaries on the industry. Matt Taylor, Lori Ann Edwards and most particularly Jonathan Howard create the world which surrounds the central characters.

Director Rognlien has worked this material more than once, bringing a comfortable energy to the Fremont Centre version. Set designer Kurtis Bedford makes much of the Fremont’s tiny space – which, fittingly for a horror-ish story, used to be a mortuary. Kate Leahy and Matt Richter balance the projections and the live work well, as lighting/projection and sound designers, respectively.

For anyone who has enjoyed those silly-scary old films, or been amused or annoyed by the frequent and often peculiar remakes of them, will find this show charming. Be sure to come early enough to check out all the film “posters” in the lobby, purportedly advertising all the Von Bach offshoots the play will discuss. In the end, as the publicity says, “love won’t die, and neither will… Von Bach!”

What: “Von Bach” When: Through March 10, 8 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays Where: Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave. in South Pasadena How Much: $25 general, $20 seniors/students Info: (866) 811-4111 or

One response to “The Undead Laugh at Fremont Centre Theatre: “Von Bach” spoofs Hollywood and horror

  1. Pingback: VON BACH: 100% – SWEET : LA Bitter Lemons

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