by Andrew Rothkin · August 15, 2015
Phil Johnson, Melinda Gilb, Tony Houck, Andy Collins, Fred Harlow | Daren Scott
Alien abductions… Blood-thirsty spiders… 1950’s-era repression, fear and middle-class hospitality…
Can you trust the stranger at your door to be who and/or what he/she/it says he/she/it is? What about your closest kin? What about one’s self?
Such are but a few of the motifs and questions that popped out to me amidst the madness and mayhem of She-Rantulas From Outer Space in 3D! [, Diversionary Theatre’s madcap send-up of 1950’s sci-fi creature features -- with, one may find, a message or two (or more) -- in part about learning to live with those that are different, be they foreign, alien, LGBT or arachnid.
The story begins simply enough. Betty, a lovely sort of June Cleaver on steroids, and her precious and precocious daughter, Suzie, a close cousin of The Bad Seed’s Rhoda Penmark just shy of her eighth birthday, arrive in Tarrytown in 1957 -- without a man or memories of their lives prior to this point. They find the perfect home in Fred and Flora Fairchild’s apartment building -- but things soon turn very odd, as one by one, the town’s men go missing and its women meet ghastly fates. But for every woman’s death or missing man, it seems a new woman appears at Betty’s door -- sans luggage, memories or any idea how she got there. And that’s when things get really odd.
While Ruff Yeager and Phil Johnson’s clever script, directed with aplomb by Yeager, was a bit uneven in performance and did not fully live up to its enormous potential, there was a great deal to love here -- and it is most certainly worthy an hour forty of your time and the price of a Fringe fest ticket.
In some ways, the piece seemed to be searching for a style. I believe that what they were going for was personified in Johnson’s tour de force performance as Betty, the central happy hostess with a few secrets of her own -- including from even herself. Johnson not only nails the manner and mannerisms of the monster movie mother, but imbues the character with honesty and depth -- so whether gallivanting about doing delightfully silly shtick or embracing a quiet moment of reflection or horrified pain, we laugh with her and feel for her, and ultimately, somehow, relate. Andy Collins was also superb in the dual role of Harry and Harriet, making bold, specific choices and filling each with a strong inner life; and Samantha Ginn, with more wig and costume quick-changes than Cher in a Vegas revue, made each of her six characters distinct and fully realized (and often had the funniest moments and lines of the evening). Tony Houck and Fred Harlow, as Suzie and Fred/Freida, respectively, also had moments to shine, though both fared best in the latter third of the piece.
While the acting was generally strong, only Johnson -- and quite often Collins -- was able to really hold the stage when the frenzy fell way to stillness and the camp to drama and clarity. (Ginn accomplished this when she could, as well -- but few of her characters had moments to stop and reflect.)
Aside from these sudden shifts in pacing and tone -- which only felt abrupt when the actors fell short of filling them -- Yeager’s direction was solid and sprinkled with dazzling gems. The whole look of the show -- especially Chad Jaeger’s smart, evocative set and Jennifer Brawn Gittings’s fun and resplendent costumes -- helped to solidify the world of “She-Rantulas…” and add to the evening’s enchantments. Peter Herman’s wigs and make-up, Kevin Anthenill’s sound design, and most certainly Bonnie Durben’s props all helped to make this Fringenyc show a treat for the eyes and ears.
Though She-Rantulas From Outer Space in 3D! was not without its faults, I am very pleased to have seen it. So do yourself a favor: crawl off your web, scurry to the Lynn Redgrave Theatre, and sink your fangs into outrageous sci-fi fun!