Meathook: A Melodrama
Open Circle Theater; ends Sat., May 21
Matt Fontaine, Tamara Paris, and Tom Prince's new musical based on a 1972 slasher film is pretty harmless stuff, which isn't, you'd think, the optimum goal for a musical based on a slasher film. Meathook is an adaptation of Three on a Meathook, one of many psycho-on-the-loose flicks (including Texas Chainsaw Massacre) inspired by the real-life crimes of Ed Gein. It appears the local trio of creators hit an aesthetic stumbling block at some point during the transformation from screen to stage, threw up their hands, and cavalierly decided that the song-filled horror idea was hilarious enough to sustain a whole show on its own. It isn't.
You can, of course, construct a funny, first-rate musical out of knowingly absurd incongruities, as anyone who's been lucky enough to laugh through the poker-faced pee tunes of Urinetown or the nerd-meets-man-eating-plant theatrics of Little Shop of Horrors will tell you. But Meathook's problem is that—until a gonzo splatter finale, at least—it doesn't know how good, or how bad, it wants to be. The show isn't certain if, like Little Shop, it should find kitschy sweetness somewhere in the screaming (there's a madman-and-his-dead-mother duet here in which the two swear that "distance cannot separate us/nor can those who only hate us") or if, as with Urinetown, we're supposed to be disarmed by how simultaneously serious the characters are and the actors aren't.
The biggest laugh of the night is, not coincidentally, the show's most uncomplicated gag. Brainy ingenue Debbie Desroches (Rachel Hynes), one of only two survivors of a mass slaughter in the woods, comes shrieking into a remote cabin carting her half-conscious beloved, Harlan Handsome (Sam Read), who's still dripping from the hand he cut off in order to escape a steel-toothed trap. Hermit homeowner Pa (John McKenna) takes one look at the blood-soaked pair and drawls, "You folks in trouble?" It's one of just a few moments where the production finds an unflappable sense of the preposterous. Elsewhere, it's flappable, all right. In fact, it's flapping all over the place, and never taking off.
The ensemble isn't sure how to respond to the problem except by ignoring it. Big, burly McKenna knows his way around a sober joke, and Read, though he's far too young for his dashing father-figure role, is at a high, happy level of hamming as the professor whose studies into "biodynamic feedback therapy" may or may not have failed to cure a convicted sadsack maniac named Mama's Boy (Aaron Allhouse). But Hynes can't decide how cute she should be, and Allhouse misses a bet by not playing up the big baby weakness his character's nickname indicates. The supporting cast—like Sarah Behrendt as wisecracking nuthouse Nurse Jane Friday—couldn't be more game yet can't agree on what musical they think they're in. Everyone is ready to chew the scenery but at a loss for what to do with the meal.
Blame directors Fontaine and Paris, since a sharp word or two from them might fix most of what isn't working. Meathook is painless but aimless. The songs aren't particularly memorable (and no one can really sing them, anyway), yet they'd make do in numbers built with more craft. Even the obvious cheapness of the poorly painted backdrops and woefully unflattering costumes seems more like lethargy than let's-put-on-a-show lightheartedness. Open Circle Theater hopes to take this show to a musical festival in New York; it needs a knife in the back and some reconstructive surgery before it can successfully bleed on the Big Apple. STEVE WIECKING
East Hall Theatre; ends Sat., April 30
Some 40-odd years ago, modern dancers got the radical idea that everyday movement—walking, stumbling, sneezing—could be strung together into choreography the same way traditional dance steps could. They were right, but that doesn't mean that everyday actions are necessarily stage-worthy. That's why we call them "everyday": because we see them all the time. To command attention in a theatrical setting, those walks, stumbles, sneezes, and so on need to be woven into a compelling choreographic structure and performed with clarity; the everyday actions of door Stories are not, unfortunately. In four vignettes, dancer Jessica Jobaris, physical theater artist George Lewis, and writer/performer John Paulsen go through the motions of life in a slow, repetitive, stylized manner that is a little too successful at re-creating the tedium of our quotidian existence.
The show seems to exist in a netherworld between art forms. The "steps" are not patterned enough to be called choreography, nor specific enough to be called mime. The closest thing door Stories comes to is theater, perhaps, though not a very dramatic brand of it. For instance, in the first scene, "Eggs and Toast," Jobaris and Paulsen enact a couple eating breakfast together, while voice-overs reveal their interior monologues. He's contemptuous; she feels neglected. It's a stereotypical scene, set to an overfamiliar, recorded Erik Satie score, with little surprise, humor, or character development.
Jobaris has proved herself a fine dancer with Mary Sheldon Scott/Jarrad Powell Performance and the Maureen Whiting Company. Lewis was one of Freehold Studio's founding partners. Paulsen's credits span nearly a dozen Seattle theater companies. No lack of talent here. Yet, somehow, the trio (who call themselves threeCompany) add up to less than the sum of their parts. At the very least, they need to rethink door Stories before trying to move it beyond the confines of the tiny space in the Oddfellow's Hall. As it is, the show makes it much too easy to relate to Jobaris' unnamed character in the fourth vignette, "Requiem": She sits on a bench tapping her foot, waiting for something to happen. LYNN JACOBSON