Bad Monkey Productions at the Chamber Theater
Through Oct 20.
Playwright Rebecca Gilman has a taste for the repulsive. Boy Gets Girl is about a stalker who financially and socially ruins his victim. Spinning into Butter is named after a Little Black Sambo story. The Glory of Living, a finalist for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize, is about a husband and wife who rape and murder young girls in motel rooms.
Compared to that cavalcade of ugliness, Blue Surge is almost a comedy. In fact, it is a comedy, even though it concerns an underage prostitute, a breakup, and a cop who can't stop thinking about anal sex. It begins in a brothel on the night of a sting. A sweet, nervous undercover cop named Curt (the charming Andrew Clawson) can't get Sandy (Brenda Joyner) to do anything besides massage his back. His worldlier—if slightly stupider—partner Doug (Robert Walker) makes the bust, which is later thrown out on a technicality. Sandy and her friend Heather (the lewder, funnier prostitute, played by Alyssa Keene) go free. But the cops and the hookers start to hang out: Curt encourages Sandy to get a legal job; Doug and Heather begin a sweetly ribald courtship.
The production, by new company Bad Monkey, bears a few amateur blemishes (uneven pacing, actorly tics), but they don't ruin the pleasure of watching Gilman's funny, flawed characters circle each other and awkwardly negotiate their desires. Sandy wants love, Curt wants to love, Heather wants a man who can keep up with her, and Doug just wants to try anal sex. BRENDAN KILEY
Million Dollar Quartet
Through Oct 28.
One December evening in 1956, Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins played a jam session with, Jerry Lee Lewis, Sun Records' hottest new acquisition. Johnny Cash stopped by to pose for photos because Sam Phillips, Sun's P. T. Barnumesque president, had invited a reporter. The impromptu four-man supergroup would never meet again.
Million Dollar Quartet is a dramatization of that night, and despite some dramatic tarting-up—Elvis's girlfriend (Jessica Skerritt) sings a couple songs and gives a painful speech referring to rock 'n' roll as a "revolution"—it captures the significance of that night. All four men were about to experience the costs of unprecedented fame: Perkins was fading into obscurity after being eclipsed by Elvis, Cash would soon sign a lucrative contract with Columbia Records, Lewis was on the verge of becoming the world's most popular rock star before losing it all by marrying his 13-year-old cousin, and Presley had just made the first of many atrocious movies and was about to embark on a two-decade descent into weirdness, self-loathing, and perversion.
The performances are excellent. The actors mimic each musician's signature tics—Rob Lyons does Perkins's odd guitar-playing chicken walk, Lance Guest's Cash lifts his guitar over his head—but it's more than impersonator shtick. The actors are a good ensemble and a fine band, and though their instruments keep them primarily rooted in place, they find room for fun: Lyons plays a hot guitar solo while standing precariously on an upright bass being played by another actor.
The unabashed star of the show is Levi Kreis's Lewis, an arrogant bastard who revels in his own talent. Kreis's leg is in a brace—he threw out his knee in an earlier performance after vaulting over the piano—but his Southern-fried bravura is still magnificent. In real life, Lewis is the only surviving member of the Quartet. Here, too, the Killer gets the last laugh. PAUL CONSTANT
Trick or Treat... Where's Your Face?
Through Oct 31.
The three-person Blood Squad has a killer conceit, and they can make any mode of torture, dismemberment, or death seem indefensibly hilarious. This round of improvised horror flicks is Halloween themed (hence the title, which is pretty good), but it doesn't seem much different from earlier iterations. The audience supplies a slasher-film title—ours was Night of the Leper—and a rubber-faced guy (Brendan Felker), a hypnotism enthusiast who resembles David Cross (Michael White), and a sly girl (Elicia Wickstead) provide the "movie," accompanied by a pianist.
There are plenty of great things about Blood Squad. First, there are the voiceover special effects, which are like Book-It's compensatory narration, except demented. ("Her ear smears off her face. Shhhmop.") There's the way the trio pushes back against lame suggestions (dissing the pianist's choices without breaking character, mocking the rejected title Sea Monsters by inserting some harmless, porpoiselike mutants into the mise-en-scène)—they know when to let the relentless upbeatness of TheatreSports slide into something more cynical and culturally aware. And there's the material itself: Hormonal, absurd, and shamelessly devoted to its audience's basest appetites, slasher flicks were made to be mocked.
The structure of Night of the Leper wasn't perfect, of course. The opening scene wasted too much story on characters destined to become leper fodder; other setups got lost in the accelerating denouement. But who am I? The improv Nazi? It was funny, it was gruesome, it was fine. ANNIE WAGNER