Monday, March 22, 2010

Alice in Slasherland

Photo/Jim Baldassare

Vampire Cowboys Theatre's latest, Alice in Slasherland, is about as scary as the Vincent Price special on Saturday Night Live--but it's a whole hell of a lot funnier. Writer Qui Nguyen and director Robert Ross Parker have been refining their "geek-chic" shows over the last several years (Men of Steel, Fight Girl Battle World, Soul Samurai), and at this point, they can do no wrong. At least, not for their audiences: if you don't like pop culture references getting mixed with your martial arts and you don't want to see bad-ass puppets putting the moves on fetish-friendly girls, this isn't for you. Their olio of a show is best summed up by their winking acknowledgments that "this play does not resemble [Alice's Adventures in Wonderland] in the least bit, not even in theme." After all, like their traditional stop-motion interludes (which in this case flit through The Wizard of Oz meets Hamlet in Star Wars pulling off Die Hard resulting in Waterworld), Vampire Cowboys will not be restrained, not even by their own genre.

Accordingly, the show opens in pitch darkness, with Alice (Amy Kim Waschke) running through rain-soaked woods with a flashlight, streaks of lightning revealing her pursuer, Jacob (Tom Myers), or Leatherface with rabbit ears. Just as quickly, the action jumps to the vlog of a Wolverine-costumed fanboy, Lewis (Carlo Alban), who is talking himself up to put the Barry White smoothness on his best-friend/crush, Margaret (Bonnie Sherman), when he takes her to the slutty Halloween party of Tina (Andrea Marie Smith). Then, as if Alice showing up to save Lewis from a mugger weren't enough, Nguyen cuts to five days later, showing us exactly how "so not okay" things turn out: Big Bad demons have arrived, ala Buffy, and after these Tweedledee- and Dum-ish monsters quickly bloody the stage, then get bloodied themselves by Alice, setting things up with witty rejoinders like these: "Violence tastes yummy."

Complaints about Alice in Slasherland are only in comparison to the other work of Vampire Cowboys Theatre: Nguyen's fight sequences are actually upstaged this go-around by Jessica Shay's terrific costumes. Where previous sequences tackled Hollywood effects--with multiple camera angles, sword-fights--the kung-fu is blunter here, though that could be because our nerdy heroes aren't exactly tough guys. That said, the fights are still sold by their excellent music and design (thanks, Shane Rettig), and by the cast, in particular Sheldon Best, who spends the majority of the play finding ways for the teddy-bear demon Edgar (Shaft meets Teddy Ruxpin) to put his fur where his mouth is. (David Valentine's single-rod design is bringing the puppet-equivalent of sexy back.) Their aesthetic also makes it difficult to go too far: the decision to have Jacob use his machete to "play" the solo on "Total Eclipse of the Heart" after a particularly campy montage of deaths ("Turn around...") brought down the house, but in a cheap shock-value way.

Then again, it's too self-aware to be "cheap," and the cast is so into it that they're able to incorporate gag-reel content directly into the show, always squirting a couple extra pints of stage blood for good measure. (Some of the right-in-front-of-your-eyes blood effects are akin to those of the short-lived Evil Dead: The Musical.) There's even a Broadway number from a latex-clad Lucifer (Smith), and who doesn't think Damn Yankees could use a few extra gallons of blood? You don't really go to see something by Vampire Cowboys expecting a consistent or even necessarily coherent plot: you go because they're motherfucking crazy serious deadly funny, and Alice in Slasherland delivers.

No comments: