A raucous good time was being had by all at Diversionary Theatre’s world premiere opening of She-Rantulas From Outer Space in 3D. And, if you, like that audience, enjoy campy parody of 1950s culture featuring men in dresses and lots of sexual double-entendre, then get someone to bug you to see this show.
Co-written by local theatre icons Ruff Yeager and Phil Johnson, She-Rantulas (the accent is on “ran”) mines the B-horror movie genre that kept drive-in patrons cuddled up next to each other while over-the-top screams emitted from the tinny speakers attached to their car windows. Of course, the 3-D part is just a fantasy, as that format did not reach the drive-in circuit until just a few years ago. But then the films themselves were pure fantasies that played with contemporary anxieties about what might be found in outer space once it were explored, the contamination and potential genetic mutation that could result from above-ground nuclear testing, a possible communist take-over led by people thought to be ordinary Americans, and the potential for invasion by outsiders (read: people not like us) of the suburban enclaves that were built to provide a peaceful, safe, and homogenous alternative to urban life.
Interestingly, the authors may be on to something in selecting this era for parody, as many of the same conditions exist in some quarters in San Diego. Only, we can be anxious about climate change (and its deniers), the potential to harm children through vaccination against debilitating illness, and a government that wants to take away our right to armed defense of our gated communities from potential invaders (read: people not like us).
But, I digress, mainly because to give you much of a plot summary would spoil the fun. Let’s just say that placid Tarrytown is being disturbed by the sudden disappearance of its male citizens and the equally sudden appearance of women who don’t quite know where they are or how they got there.
Mr. Yeager and Mr. Johnson keep things moving in a fleet-footed four scenes running 100 minutes without intermission. They also double, respectively, as director and star of the production. Mr. Yeager’s direction uses Chad Jaeger’s simple but tastefully decorated set effectively (and Mr. Jaeger’s work is enhanced by David Medina’s props), and his sight gags and ways of distinguishing characters (several actors play more than one) keep the humor flowing. Mr. Johnson is a master clown, and even though he’s in a dress all evening, one couldn’t imagine a more elegantly funny leading lady.
The problem having the authors so intimately involved in production is that they will tend to miss opportunities for improving the script while focusing on the performances. Yes, the expectation is that the jokes will be plentiful, but some do better than others. I’m sure that the authors will be able to edit their work from how audiences react, but for audiences a firmer editorial hand would have tightened this production considerably by eliminating unneeded repetition.
These concerns aside, Diversionary has provided this premiere with strong cast members and designers. Melinda Gilb stands out as all of the “real woman” characters, not only changing costumes quickly but also finding the essence of each woman she plays. Tony Houck, complete with a braided wig out of The Bad Seed (Peter Herman designed the several wigs on display), plays a petulant almost-eight-year-old whose eyes are supposed to reflect an evil soul (it would have been totally cool had the production team been able to pull off the lighted “devil eyes” effect that graced so many 50s horror movies). Andy Collins and Fred Harlow play Harry and Fred – and also Harriet and Freda. Both have a lot of fun with their roles, and Mr. Collins in particular shows off his flirting skills as both a man and as a woman. [php snippet=1]The creative team is first-cabin. Jennifer Brawn Gittings and Mr. Herman together created a colorful parade of brightly-colored costumes and matching hairstyles. Kevin Anthenill’s sound design wasn’t quite as integral to this production as was his design for the recent Travesties at Cygnet, but it was effective without calling attention to itself. Luke Olson’s lighting design provided a series of special effects reminiscent of some of the lighting tricks Alfred Hitchcock used in his films and television shows.
Despite my reticence to disclose the plot, there’s not a lot of surprises in She-Rantulas From Outer Space in 3D. You’ll see each development coming from a mile away, and it won’t matter. Relax and put yourself in expert comic hands.
[box] Performs Thursdays through Sundays (and one Monday) until November 17 at Diversionary’s University Heights facility on Park Avenue. Ticket prices (subject to change) range from $29 – $51. See the theatre listing below for web and phone information. Street parking is available, but arrive early to find a spot.
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