Published in 1974, Stephen King’s Carrie, the tale of a bullied high school outcast who takes bloody telekinetic revenge upon her torturers, kick started a horror-writing career that now spans almost 40 years and an estimated half a billion printed books. A 1976 movie version directed by Brian De Palma is one of the most popular and best-remembered horror movies ever made. On stage, the work has fared somewhat worse — a 1988 musical version lasted just five performances, becoming a byword for Broadway flop.
Brat Productions’ staging takes the plot of the book, even replicating some scenes and dialogue directly from the movie, but it does so with tongue firmly in cheek. The teenage revenge drama is played as a 1970s sitcom crossed with high camp, with broad jokes, period outfits, cultural references (including a great gym class exercise “fight”), and a gender-bending lead. Though dramatically unsatisfying — the play meanders through the climatic death scenes without the tension evoked on film and page — the result is thoroughly entertaining.
Initially, playwright Erik Jackson wanted to produce a camped-out version of the failed Broadway musical. When the musical’s creators refused permission, he wrote to King’s representatives for consent to create a non-musical version. After some negotiations he gained permission to write his comic script, which was approved by the author himself. A successful Off Broadway run by Theatre Couture followed before the black comedy script came to the attention of Brat’s artistic director, Michael Alltop, who directs this Philadelphia premiere.
The real innovation of the play is the casting of a female impersonator, Erik Ransom in this production, as Carrie White. Ransom wins over the audience with his brilliant facial expressions, perfectly capturing that of a niave teenage girl. Though the character feels poorly scripted when “she” plays hard-to-get in the play’s middle stages, the cross dressing casting makes it acceptable to laugh at this teenage misfit and makes for many easy jokes.
The other performances are also uniformly spot on. Bradley K. Wrenn (a standout from last season’s Scapin at the Lantern) is perfectly silly as heartthrob Tommy Ross and an puppet pig; Leah Walton storms through the performance as Carrie’s Christ-mad mother; and Bethany Dites is brilliantly bitchy as the girl’s chief tormentor. The fine performances benefit from excellent wigs and costumes courtesy of Alisa Sickora Kleckner and an ambitious staging (there are perhaps a dozen different settings) by Chris Kleckner.
The humor may be overly broad for some tastes, but it’s of a kind that will be broadly appreciated — early receptions have been uproarious. The show is running until early November, and should be a must-see Halloween date for anyone who has been to one to many showings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. By then, some of the inconsistent transitions and other kinks evident opening night should be ironed out, letting the spectacularly silly performances shine.
Carrie, by Erik Jackson, based on the book by Stephen King
Underground Arts @ The Wolf Building (12th and Callowhill)
Through November 7, 2010
Published by Philly2Philly.