Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
November 15, 2013
Halloween is history… but the horror keeps hanging around. Watch out for alien spiders and translucent forest-dwellers.
Moxie Theatre is presenting the first full production of “Skinless,” by up-and-coming New York playwright Johnna Adams. It’s a creepy sci-fi story that straddles two time periods. In the current day, there’s Emmi , a Women’s Studies grad student. And then there’s the subject of her proposed doctoral dissertation, a forgotten horror writer of the 1950s. We hear long excerpts from Zinnia’s novel, interleaved with even longer disquisitions on traditional vs. contemporary feminism, delivered with supercilious cruelty by Emmi’s hidebound academic advisor.
The show brings together an impressive array of talent, from the excellent cast to lighting and sound that underscore the creep-factor. But there’s no action, and no characters to care about. The two parts of the piece don’t cohere all that well, and the scenic design gives the actors little room to maneuver between settings.
Zinnia, one of a flower-named family of dysfunctional females, is a weirdo who has a murderous gripe against her unseen monster of a mother, and she weaves her own story into her hair-raising fiction about people who are born without skin, or shed it mysteriously later in life. Interesting concept, especially if you’re a fear-factor fan. But with all the inactivity onstage, the play could just as easily be done as a reading, or a radio broadcast. It’s quirky, though; give it that. Director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg and her ensemble make the most of an intriguing but unsatisfying creation.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the city, there’s “She- rantulas from Outer Space in 3D,” another homage to the 1950s, this one inspired by the low-budget B-horror flicks of the day. Add in a taste of “The Bad Seed” and a smidgeon of Donna Reed, and you’ve got yourself a world premiere by local favorites Ruff Yeager and Phil Johnson. Diversionary Theatre is serving up a comical dollop of drag, camp, gender-switching and one killer kid – who happens to be sprouting hairy arachnoid appendages.
Much is amiss on Main Street in Tarrytown USA. The men are disappearing and returning as impregnated women. The spiders seem to be out of this world. It all makes a kind of spoofy, silly sense. But what really elevates the inanity is some terrific performances. This is the best drag I’ve seen in some time.
Phil Johnson is pitch-perfect as a crinoline-wearing mid-century housefrau , and Tony Houck is haunting as her blood-thirsty extraterrestrial offspring. Andy Collins, Fred Harlow and Melina Gilb are a hoot in a range of roles. Co-writer Yeager directs with mirthful panache, and without taking it all too far over the top. That distinction goes to Jennifer Brawn-Gittings’ riotous costumes. And so, a dramatic genre is born: the creators coined a new term for their farce-plus-satire absurdity. They call it fartire . Puerile, perhaps, but also irresistibly entertaining. Oh, the horror of it all…
“She- Rantulas from Outer Space in 3D” runs through November 17, at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights.
“Skinless” continues through December 8 at Moxie Theatre, near SDSU.
©2013 PAT LAUNER