Puppets, Stage Magic and Faustian Greed in The Harrowing of Brimstone McReedy

by Lin Young

The Harrowing of Brimstone McReedy welcomes you into the room with a few carnival games—one in particular, ‘fast and loose,’ asks audience members to make bets on a piece of rope. Pick a side, any side, and if the knot tightens around your finger, you win. If you’re not caught, you lose. This sets the tone straight away for the show about to be played: either you’re caught, or you lose. There’s no real winners here (though since this is designed as a fun pre-show, you may win a small prize for your troubles).

Eric Woolfe as storyteller Brimstone McReedy (photo: Eldritch Theatre)

The main plot of The Harrowing of Brimstone McReedy follows the titular Brimstone, a would-be con artist who makes a deal with ‘old Scratch’ for endless luck at the card table. Along the way, he links up with a gang of con-artists, falls in love with an unfortunate young woman, and makes the perilous journey to pursue the promises of the Canadian Klondike Gold Rush. Told through puppetry, magic tricks, and a fluid performance by Eric Woolfe (also the show’s creator), the plot plays out Paradise Lost meets Faust meets a streetside game of shells. Like Brimstone says, the art of the con has all the same highs, lows, and emotional beats as any Shakespearian play—and a good number of those end in tragedy.

Eric Woolfe as Brimstone McReedy is equal parts puppeteer, conman and cardsharp in this wildly inventive and spine-tingling show. He carries the full thing with assurance and gravitas, pinging off the audience’s reactions and carrying out a number of live tricks of sleight-of-hand involving cards, props, coins, and all sorts of surprises I won’t spoil. It’s one thing to watch an impressive card trick. It’s another to watch Woolfe pull trick after trick after trick from his proverbial sleeve until you’re dizzy from the sheer skill on display. And all of it, seemingly, without showing his cards. The sleight-of-hand plays cleverly into themes of deception and dishonesty, as does the use of puppetry (we’re all being controlled by someone, it seems).

The whole thing plays out with a slow, creeping dread, as Brimstone’s greed overtakes his good sense, and the inevitability of the devil’s wager coming back to bite him in the end looms overhead. Balancing humour and horror throughout, the only question seems to be just how many people he’ll take down along the way, and how horrific their ends will be.

The show ends on a particularly powerful note that seems to ask what truly destroys a human soul. Is it greed, lust, or hubris? Or do our own insatiable wants and needs do the trick without much interference from the devil at all?The Harrowing of Brimstone McReedy is a provocative, visually engaging, inventively staged show that is funny, surprising, and horrifying all at once.

Do not miss your final two chances to see The Harrowing of Brimstone McReedy before it disappears before your very eyes! Today only (Saturday, August 3rd) at 2pm and 7:30pm. Tickets are available through the The Grand Theatre’s website, located here.