by Andrew Rothkin · October 28, 2013
Indie Artists on New Plays #17: Andrew Rothkin looks at Alice in Slasherland now playing at Incubator Arts Project Alice in Slasherland, Vampire Cowboys’ current Halloween-infused theatrical funfest, is occasionally terrifying, often hilarious, and altogether the most fun I’ve had at the theatre in a very long time. Qui Nguyen’s inventive script, a monster-mashup of Asian horror, David Lynch nightmares and Joss Whedon wet dreams, is simply too funny to be Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol and too dark and horrifying to be camp.
The story initially unfolds like any respectable B horror flick: dumb teens, cool cats and geeks alike, obsessed with teenage love, teenage lust and the perils of being a dumb teen in love and lust, make their way to a tempestuous party, this time, of the Halloween variety, and at some point amidst the partying and sexy merriment, someone inadvertently unleashes hell upon earth and the seemingly unescapable decimation of the human race. (And I thought my last party sucked ‘cause I ran out of chips.)
I can’t give away too many plot points without giving away surprises, but heed that the front couple of rows were labeled as “splash zone” seats; that in itself foreshadowed much of what we in the audience were in for.
Though Nguyen’s Comedy of Horrors mixes genres, styles and influences like a plastic Jack-O'-Lantern replete with sweets, every aspect of the production -- the lighting, the sound, the projections, etc., etc., etc. -- formed a cohesive whole/point of view (and one wild ride!) under Robert Ross Parker’s steady, clever direction. Indeed, all of the theatrical elements countered, supported and/or harmonized with one another, filling the theatre with audacious tricks and scrumptious treats.
Kristina Makowski and Jessica Shay’s brilliant costumes and David Valentine’s genius puppets were in themselves works of art, both aiding in the storytelling and enhancing the thrills and chills of the production. Nick Francone’s scenic design was practical and visually interesting – and said interestingness was multiplied by his own moody lighting design and by Matthew Tennie’s outstanding video projections (easily a show in their own right). Original music and sound design by Shane Rettig tied the tale of terror together and helped to give the events their fun rock-n-roll/alternative edge.
Finally, the epic slayings and battles (fight direction by playwright Nguyen, pulling double-duty, and assisted by “Lewis” understudy Chris Young) was in turn gruesome and hilarious, and always bad-ass and fantastic, often more dance-like and magic-of-the-theatre than anything resembling realism.
Inventive direction and stunning design and effects, of course, do not matter in the least unless the performers are also up the task, and without fail, all six actors were solid, skilled and joys to watch. (Despite keeping a very fixed eye on which actor played which characters, it was almost a shock to see merely six come out for the curtain-call. It seemed to be a cast of thousands.)
Director Parker is hilarious as Duncan, Edgar and Garreth, and I especially enjoyed his puppetry work/characterization. (Again – I don’t want to give too much away, but the next time I see my niece, I will be hiding her teddy bear until she’s 21. No. Make that 41.) Bonnie Sherman was strong as Margaret and Eugene Young Oh was both uproarious and endearing as Lewis, who in many ways was the heart and soul of the piece. Emily Williams was fantastic as Alice (who was nothing like Lewis Carroll’s Alice. Not even in theme…). While the character did not exactly go through a traditional character arc, this Alice did zig-zag into quite a few different manifestations – and William nailed them all, from kicking ass a la Buffy to scaring the crap out of me, a la Samara . Tom Myers’ character work -- as Jacob, T-Bone, Burnout, Tommy and especially Sherriff Dunwoody -- was in itself worth the price of admission. Had Myers been given 30 more characters to embody, I’ve no doubt each would have been just as distinct and as fun. Lastly, but certainly not least, was Nicky Schmidlein as Tina, Hurt and Matilda. Quite frankly, with her charisma and sensual appeal, Schmidlein could be a television star with a fraction of her talent (and take note Comedy Central…not just as a dumb blonde). Above and beyond these charms, she was strong, centered (even doing the ridiculous) and above all, very, very funny. All in all, the ensemble rocked.
Bravo to the cast and staff for making such a devilishly fun good time and doing it so very well.
Even if you don’t have my love of the macabre or my twisted sense of humor – like virtually everyone in the audience clearly had, as per the beaming smiles and constant audible laughter -- it’s Halloween! So unleash your dark side and let it play… and unearth your funny bone from its hallowed tomb…and catch Alice in Slasherland while you can.