|Anna Kirkland, Ali Bernstein, Dennis DelBene and Cory Boughton (Photo by Samantha Mercado Tudda)|
By Lauren Yarger
Moose Murders played one official performance when it opened on Broadway in 1983. Critics were merciless.
Frank Rich called it “A show so preposterous that it made minor celebrities out of everyone who witnessed it”. John Simon said it seemed as if the play were staged by “a blind director repeatedly kicked in the groin”. Moose Murders is so notorious that the New York Times has called it “the standard of awfulness against which all Broadway flops are judged.”
So I jumped at the opportunity to see a revival of it, given a self-described "shameless" revision by playwright Arthur Bicknell, and presented by the Beautiful Soup Collective, which "re-visits lost works that never reached their pinnacles" (a.k.a. "flops”). I mean, there are only a handful of people who ever saw the production before it closed after its single performance (click here for an article about the show and the revision written by the Post's Michael Riedel for some background: http://www.nypost.com/p/entertainment/theater/moose_is_loose_XojRY8CQ5u40kCOysY5zZL).
I wasn't alone. Half of the house at last night's opening was press. The revival of Moose Murders had achieved "hot ticket" status.
So what did I think? The thought that most came to mind was, "How did this play ever get produced on Broadway in the first place?" The second thought that kept coming to mind was, "This is the revised script? How indescribably bad must the original have been?"
Before I expound on the horrors of the show, let me start with a couple of positive statements. First, I think Bicknell is a very brave man to have attempted to revisit the play, especially after the trouncing he received when it premiered. He's led a life out of the NY theater scene since then and really had no reason (or reasonable motivation) to relive the experience. I know I wouldn't have. So hats off to someone willing to overcome a major setback and try to make it better. I would have even more kudos to give him had he not canceled his travel plans to New York for last night's opening at the last minute (citing personal reasons). This forced the cancellation of a pre-show event with him discussing the play with the "flop wall" at Joe Allen's Restaurant in the background. Now that could have been a lot of fun.
I also want to take a hat off to the director and cast of the show (see who they are below). They give their all. They throw everything they have into presenting the play -- and the characters -- for what they are. They are very professional without belittling or mocking the sometimes really mindblowingly awful lines they have to say or the incomprehensible plot they have to enact. And I kind of like that Beautiful Soup exists, How else would I -- or anyone who truly would be interested to -- see the worst flop in Broadway's history on a New York stage again?
|Orlando Iriarte (Photo by Samantha Mercado Tudda)|
Now, to the show itself. I'll do my best to give you some idea of what takes place without giving away any spoilers. I'm not sure anyone knows what really is going on here, though.
Arriving at The Wild Moose lodge in the Adirondacks are the Holloway family: matriarch Hedda (Anna Kirkland), husband, Sidney (Dennis DelBene), son Stinky (Jordan Tierney), daughter Gay ( a delightful Caroline Rosenbum), daughter Lauraine (Ali Bernstein) and her husband, Nelson (Cory Boughton). Ostensibly, they are there for a final family time with Sidney, whom they expect to die soon. You see, he is a vegetable, wrapped in bandages following a fire and a three-story fall from a window. Really, however, a number of the family members have murder on their minds, and feel they are in a perfect setting: this is the lodge where a famous murder took place and where there is a legend of a "butcher moose" on the loose.
Perhaps some of us audience members also had murder on our minds, but I wouldn't have been adverse to any or all of the family members being knocked off once we got to know them a little. Hedda is a cold, uncaring, harsh woman who forgets her own son's name -- and to take care of wheelchair-bound Sidney. That duty is left to chainsmoking nurse Dagmar (Noelle Stewart), who parks him under a tent on the lawn in the rain.
Stinky appears to be brain damaged from years of drug use and has a really fervent, intensely disturbing Oedipus complex. He can't keep his hands off his mother. Gay tap dances all the time, trying to call attention to herself while impersonating Shirley Temple (she's dressed in an appropriate lollipop-looking getup by Costume Designer DelBene) and other child stars, complete with frequent dying scenes.
Lauraine inexplicably expounds on the greatness of her mother, clinging to her physically, while ignoring Nelson, who seems to be the least nutty fruit to fall from this family tree.
Interrupting plans for the quiet family time are entertainers Snooks and Howie Keene (Brittany Velotta and Steven Carl McCasland), who recently were fired from their gig at the lodge by former caretaker Joe Buffalo Dance (Orlando Iriarte). They refuse to leave. Not sure exactly why, but perhaps it's because a no-talent duo would find it difficult to get a job elsewhere. And Howie's being blind doesn't help. (Howie is the brunt of and source of so many bad blind jokes, I finally made myself deaf to shut them out).
There are numerous, ridiculous plot twists, and if ever a play should forfeit the second act, this is it. Let's just say that at one point, a rather large moose head suddenly disappears. This work is so flawed, however, that because none of the characters notices that a rather large moose head is missing, initially it's impossible to tell whether this is connected with the the plot, or perhaps has nothing to do with anything and is just the result of a prop taking an untimely tumble during one of the may frequent blackouts during which more dialogue is heard....
At another climactic moment, when most of those on stage are murdering or being murdered, Hedda, inexplicably, is wounded on the floor. Has she been strangled, stabbed, shot (all of which have been used in the plot so far)? When asked whether she's injured, she replies, " I’m sorry. Yes! It’s my back. I can hardly move. Could you help dislodge my son?"
OK, I did laugh out loud at that preposterous line. In fact, I also chuckled at most of the lines delivered by Stinky --because Tierney did a great job of mastering the brain-dead, clueless dialogue almost always ending with a hippie-sounding ". . . man." And also because I was sitting next to my son, who was horrified by the incestuous affection Stinky lavished on his mother.
Kirkland also delivered the night's only line to receive a guffaw from the audience because they related:
"It’s a wonder how he’s managed to stay unconscious through all of this . . . Should we envy him?"
The creative team:
Director.... Steven Carl McCasland (founding artistic director of Beautiful Soup Collective)
Assistant Director... Sienna Metzgar
Scenic and Costume Designer... Dennis DelBene
Lighting Design... Steven Carl McCasland
Fight Director.... Christopher Stokes
Information: Through Feb. 10 at the Connelly Theatre, 220 East 4th St., NYC. Tickets: $25 - $30 http://beautifulsoup.showclix.com. A portion of proceeds will benefit The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
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-- God's name taken in vain
-- Sexual dialogue and situations