Regional Reviews: St. Louis
The Thing - Holiday Parody
Also see Richard's review of Who's Holiday
But they clearly need more crazy people in the cast, or the funny ones who are on stage need more confidence, or something. There are tantalizing glimmers of very good comic sensibility peeking out, every few minutes, but those flames need to be fanned. On opening night, the audience was dying to laugh, but the laughs mostly just died instead. The characters in this retelling are beset by otherworldly problems, strangely without a lot of sustained or tableau-inspiring theatricality. The Carpenter movie's immediate known precursor was 1951s The Thing from Another World (directed by Christian Nyby). But a live show like this needs to blossom a lot biggeror so I thought, until the very end, which is ultimately fabulous.
It should be like that all the way through, though I don't require constant, giant special effects that set off the sound warning on my watch, like the climax of this play. I mean, I like to think I don't require all that. I somewhat require it, being media-overstimulated. Still, The Thing is a durable property, and its lineage goes back quite a ways before 1951. For most of this hour-long show, expect much checking-off of boxes marked "plot point," along with the occasional, timid joke.
It should be respected that this show scores nicely in the props department, as everyday scientists are gradually turned into hideous aliens (a process which also involves liberal amounts of Silly String, explaining why the front two rows are draped in plastic and sold as Splash Zone tickets). A lot of love went into making this dubious human assemblage (for which some assembly is still required), and the props for those props goes to Stan Davis and the hilarious actress Amy Kelly, who (regrettably) is not up there on stage this time.
Stoic Ben Ritchie portrays a Snake Plissken-like character called MacReady, and neither he nor Kurt Russell is known much for "winking" at an audience. I can't help thinking Mr. Ritchie needs a coterie of nervous scientists here, heavily armed, chattering away at all times, consciously destroying the mood he's trying so hard to create. In that vein, though generally a lot more understated than the usual sidekicks, one can't help liking Chuck Brinkley, Victor Mendez, the immortal Ted Drury, Nic Tayborn, and others.
But if your leading man's calling card is a granite jaw and steely eyes, don't forget you might need a good handful of Barney Fifes to balance that out. Since there's no tightly controlled camera, as in film, and virtually no stage lighting to generate tension, common theatrical conventions like choreographed group movement and more lavishly constructed moments of discovery may be needed.
It's billed as a live parody, but the story's major commodity, ironic or not, is its suspense. So, endlessly, the characters in The Thing - Holiday Parody shuttle slowly from one side of the stage to the other. The production would benefit from any degree of expressionistic lighting at all. But the talented people who run this new company won't have that kind of cash to throw around for a couple of seasons. I hope that they make it, though, as all the successful pieces to a new group are still being unearthed.
The Thing - Holiday Parody runs through December 11, 2021, at Cherokee Street Theater Company, 2720 Cherokee Street, St Louis MO. You're required to wear a mask into the building, but it was my recollection that the vast majority of people in their 20s and 30s were not wearing masks inside, during a well-attended performance. For more information visit www.cherokeestreettheatercompany.com.