Frankenstein and Evil Dead
Halloween is upon us, and I can't think of any better place to celebrate the spooky weekend than at Country Playhouse with its scary double feature, Frankenstein on the main stage and musical spoof Evil Dead in the intimate Black Box. They are frightening in different ways.
Thunder cracks. Lightning flashes. Electricity arcs. The sound of a heartbeat reverberates eerily. Under its bloody sheet, the reanimated creature stirs, grabbing the arm of nearby young Dr. Frankenstein. The audience screams. In the most thrilling scene in Country Playhouse's epic Frankenstein production, the classic Mary Shelley gothic "romance" of life and death comes truly alive. Other scenes and a few key performances approach this elemental theatricality, but, overall, the production is hampered by a lack of genuine excitement.
Massive, built set-pieces are terribly difficult to pull off — and I mean pull off the stage. Interminable precious minutes of drama are wasted while we wait for Frankenstein's great hall to be broken apart and lugged into the wings. There's no reason for Frankenstein's chateau to be so detailed and hard to move, especially when other scenes are impressionistically rendered and make their point without such DeMille treatment. The Baron's boudoir is a simple doorway, bed and nightstand. Even the Arctic is conjured by the barest minimum: black curtain, bit of dry ice, sound of an icy wind and Frankenstein in a wool cape. Simple and elegant. We supply the setting.
Throughout, the play's pacing goes in fits and starts, like the creature lurching through the countryside, no thanks to the bumpy adaptation by veteran daytime soap scribe Victor Gialanella. Exactly where the hell are we supposed to be? By the wayward accents, we could be at Henry Higgins's elocution school. No one sounds authentic.
Except for the spooky laboratory scene, the lighting is hideously bright. While a storm rages outside, the interior shouldn't look like a GE commercial. Where's the eagle eye of director Philip Nichols? In a striking pictorial effect, though, whenever the creature kills — and, believe me, there are more dead bodies than in an entire run of Hamlet — the stage is curdled in blood red.
Fortunately, the dramatic bumps are smoothed by the ardent Victor Frankenstein of Louis Crespo and the frightening, psychotic creature of Michael Raabe. Their grand confrontation scene, after the creature has escaped from the laboratory and faces his "creator," is thrillingly physical. As the grotesque creature demands answers, the hulking Raabe flings Crespo like a rag doll. Throughout the play, Crespo deftly illuminates the intellectual distance between what Frankenstein has done and what he meant to do, while the monumental Raabe is id incarnate.
Jeffrey Dorman, as Frankenstein's skeptical fellow scientist and enabler; Clara Marsh, as younger brother William; and Amesty Rioux, as the falsely accused nanny, bring reality to the stage. However, those overacting body snatchers, who have stumbled in from some comic operetta, have got to go.
There are actually some shows that are immune to criticism, Evil Dead being one of them. A send-up of a send-up, this Grade B musical, spawned from Sam Raimi's wildly successful horror flick trilogy, is a campy composite of all three. It's as cheesy a musical comedy as you could wish for.
Sadly, this anemic little show is fairly dreary, not even close to its progenitors, the naughty British Rocky Horror Show (1973) or that delicious mother of all horror spoof musicals, Little Shop of Horrors (1982). It has requisite gore (self-amputation, chainsaw attacks, knives in the back); stupid characters who do stupid things like leave the cabin in the middle of the night to explore strange noises; a book of the dead that, once incanted, summons forth demons; that sort of thing. It's all so clumsy that criticism can't possibly do it any harm — or good.
Even with their combined eight hands, the four (!) composers can't write one song that sticks in your head. The dance of the demons, "Do the Necronomicon," is pretty catchy, but the lyrics, by George Reinblatt, the most accomplished of the creative quartet, are forced and without wit. Where's the sass? Making fun of Henry Winkler is way too lame. Does anyone even remember '70s icon The Fonz?
Only Jessica Rohe, doubling as professor's daughter Linda and slut Shelley, acquits the vocals with professional ease, but at least the ensemble throws itself into the spirit of the thing with a modicum of "let's put on a show." Jonathan Moonen, as bonehead Ash, has a possession scene that is goofy and accomplished. Jake Bevill is appropriately smarmy as randy Scott; Rebeccah Bauerlein quips in bad puns throughout as kid sister; Jamie Betik is demure as girlfriend Linda; and Tom Stell goes all Deliverance as woodsman Jake.
The truly funny parts belong to a talking moose head, a hyper squirrel and Ash's severed hand, which scampers across the counter with its libido intact. A word of caution about the Splatter Zone: Don't wear white!
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