Surely one of the landmark theater events of the New Millennium occurred late in 2006 with the invention of the Splatter Zone at New World Stages. For nearly a century, Gotham's legit producers had been in ignominious retreat against the incursion of movies until the producers of Evil Dead: The Musical finally found something the silver screen couldn't do -- splatter goofball theater patrons with a shower of stage blood!
Take that, B-movie gore-meisters!
The front section of the theater on West 50th was draped with the same sort of plastic your grandma might use for protecting her precious furniture from the onset of human beings. Normal patrons, such as me, sat at a safe remove, while wallowers in gore -- like my intrepid daughter -- sat up front, where ticket prices were actually cheaper. Hazard pay for theatergoers.
At intermission, Ilana had some unique options to ponder. She could purchase a Dead T-shirt in the lobby and get it spontaneously splattered during the gorefest that was on tap for Act 2. Or she could protect herself and her clothing like the sensible folk, who accepted ponchos from ushers tossing them into the crowd like zookeepers throwing fish to the seals. Quite a prelude to some really crass spewage.
With book and lyrics by George Reinblatt, Evil Dead: The Musical is a travesty/glorification of the low-budget Evil Dead cult movie series. Powered by a tight quintet led by Marty Gregory, the stage version is in its Metrolina premiere through June 27 at Actor's Theatre. Ponchos are available to extra-anal patrons, but really, they aren't necessary as director Billy Ensley is staging this haute silliness without its trademark Splatter Zone. Gushings do not extend beyond the lip of the stage.
Despite that sacrilegious omission, you can rest assured that the production on 650 Stonewall Street has not had its heart ripped out. Ensley has the good fortune of directing in Charlotte, where the summertime talent pool has never looked more bountiful. Metamorphoses, Camelot, Twelfth Night, and Dancing at Lughnasa -- all up and running as Evil Dead opened -- aren't exactly miniatures from a casting standpoint. Whatever they and The Fairytale Chronicles drained from the pool certainly hasn't hindered Ensley, since the deadheads on Stonewall are decisively better than those I saw in New York.
Perhaps the Gotham group was infested with frustrated movie actors, but the Actor's Theatre cast has a far surer grasp of what they're doing -- and more comedy talent. Start with the two core couples who trespass on the wrong cabin in the woods, one housing the infamous Book of the Dead and a legion of Candarian demons unleashed by the book's former owner.
Caroline Bower and Jon Parker Douglas are Linda and Ash, co-workers who caught each other's eye in the housewares department at S-Mart. Bower begins as a dazzled damsel before her re-emergence as a Candarian, but Douglas has the juiciest role as he transforms from dweeb to action hero, wielding a shotgun and the genre's iconic chainsaw, lopping off a couple of heads and his own right hand. If you remember Douglas hanging upside-down in his cage as the Bat Boy, then you won't be shocked by the extra mileage Ensley and choreographer Eddie Mabry wring out of Douglas's acrobatic abilities. That disembodied hand could win an acting award in its own right.
Alyson Lowe and Stephen Seay are the more comical teen couple, Shelly and Scott. Shaking her equipment for all it's worth, Lowe ascends to new heights of sluttishness, and fortified by years of Tarradiddle Player brashness at Children's Theatre, Seay simply owns the horny, potty-mouthed stud who picks her up and takes her camping.
Katie Rebecca Cheek needs to articulate more clearly -- and adjust better to upstaging -- as Ash's abrasive younger sister Cheryl, but she's certainly irritating enough as the tagalong member of the expedition in her Charlotte debut. The second wave of cabin visitors is on a par with the first, Robbie Jaeger playing pent-up and henpecked as Ed to Emily Mark's iron maiden Annie, the daughter of the former cabin owner who returns with two key missing scraps of the magical book. Timing between Jaeger and Mark is impeccable as she imperiously cuts off every sentence he attempts to utter -- until he reaps his reward in a "Bit Part Demon" solo that ends mercifully at just the right moment.
If this weren't sufficient foolery, Ryan Stamey has a pair of dopey roles, including Jake, the rube in overalls who guides Ed and Annie to the cabin after the bridge collapses -- a delightfully cheesy set piece by Chip Decker. Inspired by the immortal Bullwinkle, Stamey is also the voice of the Moose mounted on the cabin wall. I'm not totally sure, but I think the talking moosehead is implicated in the pathology of Ash's renegade hand. Don't get bitten by one of those.
The music, written by Reinblatt and four others, is tawdry and instantly forgettable, stuff you wouldn't begrudge a Candarian demon for feasting on. The lyrics, the vulgarity, and the violence -- tasteless, excessive, and phony -- are the main dishes. Cooked up just the way Actor's Theatre fans like it.