Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Devil Boys from Beyond
But, because it's from Stray Dog Theatre, it's also "clever" with a capital "Q."
Producer/director Gary F. Bell's Christmas offering would merely be an exhausting, one hundred minute-long series of sketch-comedy gags if it weren't for the fact that he can always assemble a cast of genuinely smart, funny performers. Under his guidance they put a wry twist on every last bit, consistently wringing comedy from intentionally dubious material.
Mind you, it's still a little exhausting: a hundred little moments of parody, from cold war science fiction, and from the whole history of soap opera (as written by Buddy Thomas and Kenneth Elliot). But Sarajane Alverson, as a hard-bitten reporter in 1957, is always one step ahead of us on the trail of alien invasion in a remote Florida town. She understands campy humor better than anyone I've ever met, and calls to mind (as Matilda, or Mattie Van Buren) some antelope or gazelle crossing a frozen lake, skittering between an elegant trot and falling right down through the ice.
In Britain, Christmas pantomime usually features just one established male actor in drag. Here we get two excellent wig-and-heels performances out of younger men, Michael Juncal (as Florence Wexler, with Divine-inspired eye make-up) and Michael Baird (looking surprisingly lovely) as a conniving opponent of Mattie. As Lucinda Marsh, Mr. Baird is also hot on the trail in search of little green men. But long before all of that, Mr. Juncal scores the first big laugh of the night, in the middle of a monolog about a flying saucer: passionately blurting out "I'm not insane!" with a desperate Southern twang.
But it's not really a "Christmas show." Not unless you count a rampant celebration of gay humor as some kind of religious experience (which you might). In that case, every show at Stray Dog would be like Christmas (which, nine times out of ten, it is). But this year, especially, any big gay ritual seems more like a "victory lap" for the GLBT group. And what better Christmas present than that?
Teryl Thurman is strangely brilliant as Mr. Juncal's neighbor Dotty (in Lizard Lick, Florida). She runs a small motel and is suddenly, inexplicably in possession of an unusually hot young husband named Jack (Brandon Brendel). The same thing has also happened to Mrs. Wexler (Michael Juncal), in the form of handsome young Harry (Ryan Wiechmann). But whether or not the women are genuinely deceived about the mysterious rejuvenation of their actual husbands is what becomes the big question.
Stephen Peirick and Jonathan Hey are excellent, though a bit overshadowed by the insanity around them: Mr. Peirick, as Gregory, Mattie's photographer and alcoholic ex-husband, is there to put a great accent mark on a hundred bits of comical nonsense; and Mr. Hey nails the form of grizzled newspaper editor Gilbert. Ms. Alverson even commands the stage in a song, well into the business.
Every one of them is like some famous golfer, relegated to playing a round of miniature golf at a relentless pace, and using all their ingenuity to bounce the ball under the little windmill and across the little bridge. Only the great ones can make it ferocious and fun and compelling. And, thanks to director Bell, these players are all pretty great indeed.
With splendid atmospherics, and flawless light and sound to boot. Winner of the Overall Excellence award at the 2009 New York International Fringe Festival, Devil Boys from Beyond runs through December 19, 2015, at the Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave. (63104). For more information visit www.straydogtheatre.org.