Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Alice in Slasherland

With Alice in Slasherland, the Vampire Cowboys Theatre Company has created a send-up of both slasher films and Alice in Wonderland that’s really not a sendup of either. Don't worry: the show acknowledges this on more than one occasion. And, ultimately, it doesn't matter.

What does matter, of course, is that it's a Vampire Cowboys show. Which means it's great fun from start to finish and very much worth your while. Unless, of course, you're not into having fun.

I mean, yes, there's a scene where a bunch of teenagers go to a party, get drunk, get laid, then get killed by a machete-wielding giant in a mask. Yes, that mask looks like a combination of Jason Vorhees's hockey mask and that of a white rabbit. Yes, there's a lot of spraying blood. And yes, there's a creepy girl (who acts like the girl from The Ring) named Alice. But that just about does it for the similarities.

But come on. You aren’t going to see a Cowboys show for a treatise on Lewis Carroll’s work or a dissection of a brain-dead subgenre, are you?

Once again, writer Qui Nguyen and director Robert Ross Parker (who Isaac Butler once aptly described as "the Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright of the New York theatre scene") and the rest of the company offer 100 minutes of pure, unbridled fun with their latest production. I was thoroughly absorbed and entertained from the moment the "turn off your cell phones" message was offered in the form of a 1970s-style grindhouse trailer ("The Devil's Usher"). You will be, too.

Unless, of course, you're not into having fun.

In Alice in Slasherland, Carlo Alban plays Lewis, a young geek who pines over his best friend, Margaret (Bonnie Sherman). He tries - and fails - to convey his feelings to Margaret at a party hosted by the ultra popular hottie, Tina (Andrea Marie Smith). At the previously-mentioned party at Tina's house (where a drunken Tina sports an, um...fetching...devil costume), Lewis inadvertently opens a gateway to hell, where all sorts of demons and infernal beasties rise up and wreak havoc on the town. Oops.

In addition to opening a portal to hell, Lewis resurrects the soul of a murdered girl named Alice (Amy Kim Waschke). She's very cute, and seems nice enough, even though she's not much of a talker. And oh, yeah. She seems to enjoy the taste of human flesh. So. There's that.

Now with various demons, monsters and killers destroying his town, Lewis must find a way to close the portal before Lucifer shows up. But of course he can't do it alone. He'll need the help of Alice, Margaret, and a demon named Edgar in the form of an adorable trash-talking teddy bear (voiced and puppeteered by Sheldon Best).

Edgar is a truly delightful and ambitious creation. The Cowboys have often featured puppetwork in their shows, but this is the first time they've had a puppet play a main character you connect with and root for. It's a risk, but the risk pays off superbly.

The cast, which features veteran (Tom Myers, Smith, Waschke, Alban) and recent (Best, Sherman) company actors, is amazing. It's not easy to control puppets, make multiple costume changes, engage in stage combat (sometimes in either a bear suit or evening gown), all while remaining funny and engaging. These guys just make it seem that way.

The design team has also outdone itself again, from Nick Francone's outstanding scenic and lighting design, to Jessica Shay's inspired costumes, to Shane Rettig's spot-on sound. David Valentine's puppet work is once again superlative and up to the previously-mentioned challenge of creating a stuffed character we care about through the duration of the show. Additionally, Matthew Tennie's multimedia design is also a fun new ingredient to the company's aesthetic.

Although not really a sendup of slasher films or Carroll’s seminal stories, Alice in Slasherland is actually a sendup of all of the company’s previous works. There are a number of nods and references throughout the show—both sly and overt—to their previous productions, which is an added treat to folks like me who've been going to their shows for a while now.

The Cowboys have always been about not only celebrating genre storytelling, but also celebrating theatre and what the medium can do. They've also always been about offering its fans rewards (beyond, you know, the self-evident rewards of seeing a teddy bear fighting a demon) and again, loads of fun. So you should definitely go.

Unless, of course, you're not into having fun.

Alice in Slasherland is playing at the HERE Arts Center on 145 Sixth Avenue through April 10. Click here for tickets.

Qui and Robert's retarded brother,

James "Fun-Loving Idiot" Comtois

Photo: Bonnie Sherman, Sheldon Best, and Carlo Alban in Alice in Slasherland. Photo by Jim Baldassare.

Note: Although many of the members of the company are good friends and frequent collaborators, I have tagged this entry as a review for simplicity's sake. Yes, I am biased. Yes, I paid for my ticket (though at a discounted price.) But I'm also being honest. I loved this show, and am reporting so. Those that feel some sort of ethical line is being crossed here are welcome to debate amongst yourselves. Just make sure to buy your tickets.

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