Saturday, October 27, 2012

Countdown to Halloween Day 27 -- Of Drinking Games and Blood Splatter:A Review of OhLook Theater's Production of "Evil Dead: The Musical"

On Friday night, Li'l Brother and I went to Grapevine, TX to see the Ohlook Performing Arts Center production of Evil Dead the Musical. While I don't know if I can say it's a great show, it was definitely quite an experience.

The play itself is a mixture of elements from all three Evil Dead films. Like the first film it begins with a group of five college friends going off to a cabin in the woods and accidentally unleashing evil spirits that begin to assault and possess them one by one. Later, it brings in characters from the second movie and its plot point of a spell to defeat the evil, and then ends with the S-Mart sequence from Army of Darkness. Some of the play's comedy is from meta-humor about the films, but the majority stems from shock value and crude comments, with some intentionally bad puns thrown in for good measure. I enjoyed myself at the play, but would be hard-pressed to say how much of that was due to the quality of the script itself, and how much was due to the overall experience.

When Li'l Brother and I got to the theater, there was a line of people outside all holding six packs and coolers and other forms of liquor in all shapes and sizes. Not exactly what we were expecting to see when going to a play. Once inside, we were surprised at just how small the venue was; I knew from purchasing the tickets that it would be a tiny theater, but the online seating chart didn't do it justice. Instead of regular theater seating, it was a series of four risers with regular meeting room chairs set up; plus, they sold "floor seats" which were exactly that: people sitting on the floor.  The "stage" was just the part of the room that wasn't taken up by the risers, which meant that the actors were treading all over the "floor seats" from time to time. As the play started, they announced that they like to do a special drinking game at the productions of Evil Dead: The Musical and instructed us to take a drink every time a character dropped an F-bomb, assuring everyone that if they followed this practice in Act I, they wouldn't remember Act II.

Once again, not like any theater production I've been to before.

One important aspect of the Evil Dead: The Musical experience is the "Splatter Zone"; people seated in the Splatter Zone are pretty much guaranteed to be drenched in fake blood by the time the show is over; people in the non-Splatter Zone aren't 100% safe, but are much less likely to get hit. The first bout of blood splatter doesn't happen till towards the end of the first act, but the second act had liberal doses of fake blood being sprayed into the audience from cast and crew wielding super soakers and plastic bottles filled with fake blood. As I learned from fellow theatergoers during the intermission, this show is an annual tradition at Ohlook, and the bulk of the people sitting in the Splatter Zone were repeat viewers, many of whom were dressed in white so that the blood splatter would show up better on them. Although Li'l Brother and I had purchased seats in the non-Splatter Zone, we both wound up getting small dribbles of fake blood on our clothing, which was better than the floor seats and first row audience, most of whom were dripping with the stuff by the end. The combination of a floor slippery with fake blood and theatergoers tipsy with inebriation led to several close calls and one flat-out pratfall from a girl trying to head the bathroom in the middle of the second act, causing the only actress on stage to pause and give the klutz some applause.

The cast was very solid on the whole, although I often had trouble telling if my inability to hear lyrics was due to the music being cranked too loud or to many of the performers not projecting out loudly enough. But while most of the cast did solid jobs, two of them did exceptional jobs which helped carry the rest of the show.  First, there was the hillbilly character Jake who, for reasons I'm not quite sure of, was portrayed by a butched-up female. And while her macho performance was part of her appeal, really it was just her flat-out comedic chops and frankly stellar singing voice that made her stand out in my mind. The other standout was the actor portraying our main hero, Ash, who also had a surprisingly good singing voice and a talent for physical comedy. He also managed to do a good job of ad libbing when things would go off track, from a malfunctioning curtain rod to people coming in late to taking his own tumble on the fake blood.  For both of them, I found myself wishing I could see other productions they were involved in, and that's not something I often find myself saying when seeing community theater.

Evil Dead: The Musical is not for the easily offended or squeamish, or even those with a low tolerance for self aware campy humor; but if none of that bothers you, and you're open to an unusual theater-going experience, it has potential.

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