Think of it as the monster truck rally of bloody good fun.
"Bread and Circuses" is nine -- count 'em, nine -- short plays by fairly well-known authors, who were asked to reflect on the theme of violence as entertainment.
While the blood comes only in crimson, the stories offer up a Baskin-Robbins array of fright, gore, violence and malevolence that include, but are no means limited to, tricking the mind into terror, attacks of various kinds of monsters and zombies, a violent twist on feminism and reanimation of a long-dead movie star.
Though surprisingly truthful and nearly profound moments pop up here and there, the evening is pretty much devoted to laughs. The violence and gore, as has been a theater tradition from the beginning, take place offstage, with gruesome sound effects and characters returning to the stage spattered with blood (in some cases, they don't return at all).
A cast of six -- Sarah Coykendall, Mike Delaney, Dana Featherby, Maro Guevara, Eric Kerr and Maria Giere Marquis -- all play numerous roles and have the chance to pop up in a variety of characterizations.
The mini-plays contain a huge variety of subject matter, beginning with "Bedtime," a domestic tale of a woman who has invited a friend over for support following the death of her boyfriend. He was killed, we learn, by a neighborhood creep, the Man in the Mask. We find out the masked man eventually kills anyone the woman gets close to. Meanwhile, the friend slowly begins to realize she is more bait than shoulder to cry on.
In "Damsel and Distress Go to a Party," we find some young women getting ready to go to a party. They are dressed in the typical party frocks, but they put on bizarre makeup to avoid unwanted attention from members of the opposite sex. Eventually, one of the women decides to take the idea to its final level, announcing she will not be going to the party, but instead will go hunting for offenders. She begins to apply what appears to be war paint on her face, then the others follow suit. This is probably the angriest play of the nine, but is also the most thought-provoking play of the night.
And, of course, there are zombies. In "Don't Turn Around," we join the action when a couple escapes a zombie attack at a shopping mall by hiding out in a janitor's closet. The piece blends love and death in a final moment's confessional, and it creates a lot of twisted surprises.
Perhaps the most bizarre of the shows is "The Reanimation of Marlene Dietrich," which is about, well, just that. But it becomes a winding road of sexuality, abuse and, eventually, cupcakes.
Contact Pat Craig at email@example.com.
Presented by Impact Theatre
Through: April 6
Where: La Val's Subterranean, 1834 Euclid Ave., Berkeley
Running time: 2 hours