Luna Theater Company seems to be getting into the habit of the spooky spirit of October with the Philadelphia premiere of Allison Moore’s Slasher. Isn’t violence justified if you’re just trying to prevent the humiliation of your daughter’s onscreen murder?
Petite, pert, flaxen-haired Sheena (Katy O’Leary) can barely keep up the syrupy flirtation required of a scantily-clad 21-year-old waitress at Buster’s - with her own college classes, an overachieving high school sister, and a debilitated yet vociferous addict of a mother (Lee Kiszonas), she feels the weight of the world. When Marc, Chris Fluck’s well-baked caricature of a flaky, pontificating film director, orders extra lime, he realized the cash-strapped, nubile Sheena is just what he needs for his latest flick, "Bloodbath".
One scream and a $15,000 haggle later, Sheena is cast in the prestigious role of the final onscreen female to meet her bloody end: "the last girl" - but this stokes Sheena’s housebound mother’s feminist ire. Sheena rails against Frances’s bitter indolence, but as filming begins, she suddenly fears that Mom is about to become a lot more dangerously motivated than anyone thought possible. A steely-saccharine evangelist who denies all knowledge of a local abortion clinic bombing knocks on Frances’s door at an all-too-convenient moment, and the "Bloodbath" film’s perpetrators of female debasement soon face their own righteous, unscripted horrors.
Playwright Allison Moore sets up some hearty themes to knock together: Frances’s self-imposed impotence versus her rabid anger over the objectification of women, and Sheena’s sexual exploitation versus the necessity of supporting her family. Moore hammers home all the contradictions powering the dialogue in a long, angry monologue of Sheena’s, and then feels more free to set the plot loose for a romp of hilarious horror clichés that are practically a spoof of the horror spoof. Protagonist Sheena vacillates between being a tough cookie who can negotiate a price and bring home the bacon, and a simpering naïf who doesn’t see director Marc’s hefty, lingering leg pats for what they really are. But the script is packed with enough wicked quips and skewers of scary cinema ("Get me a meat hook, the biggest claw-foot bathtub you can find, and a wheelchair") that the ninety-minute run-time wings by - just don’t try to make sense of the very end.
Director Gregory Scott Campbell lets the actors wallow delightedly in the campy verbal and physical clichés without grating, and embeds myriad tiny, well-crafted moments in the broader comedy. A standout cast gives it their all, including Davy Raphaely’s frowzy, enthusiastic First Assistant, who doggedly tries to live his dream even as the film’s "investors" seem to fall away by the minute. The lovely Katy O’Leary throws herself with gusto into all the staples of pursuit from a masked madman, including glass-shattering screams and the fatal twisted ankle. Frances, in Costume Designer Alison Johnson’s flawless take on the housebound mom (lank pink sweatpants and a larger-than-life kitten menagerie tee), herds the other characters relentlessly around the stage in her motorized scooter and is utterly believable in her unkempt, helpless rancor. Jen Fellman does what she can with the tacked-on triteness of the demanding little sister role (pigtails and all), and Kelly Vrooman is consistently uproarious in a variety of roles, from other "Bloodbath" cast members (like the unfortunate real estate agent who’s picked off first) to a crusader for God to a spot-on newscaster. Dirk Durosette’s set is nondescript, with the perfect ominous bathtub hardly used, but perhaps all the set can do is contain the horror hyperbole already bounding through the mostly enjoyable script.
Luna Theater Company’s Slasher continues through November 14th at the Walnut Street Theatre’s Studio 5 (the corner of 9th and Walnut in Philadelphia). For more information visit Luna Theater Company website.