There’s only one way to handle wacky full-tilt farce such as Allison Moore’s “Slasher,” and that is to swing for the fences; and that’s just what Actor’s Express does in their current production, running through June 19.
When Frances McKinney, a Grendel’s mother-on-acid type of mom (played uproariously by Shelly McCook), defends her, uh, questionable behavior by bellowing “I’VE GOT CHRONIC FATIGUE!” in a voice that shatters glass, all vestiges of sanity in “Slasher” are officially shot to hades.
What could have possibly upset Mom Frances so? Let’s see: Sleazy filmmaker Marc Hunter (John Benzinger) is in town with his young sidekick (David Sterritt) to make a Texas chainsaw-type movie, and they need a “last girl standing.” They find the comely young Sheena McKinney (Annie York) waitressing in a Hooters-style roadhouse and easily lure her with visions of Hollywood money and quasi-stardom. (Sheena could certainly be an agent, if not a great actress: Watch her negotiate her salary with the “pros” with a mind like a steel trap—another funny moment.)
However, Frances now reveals herself as a pill-popping cornpone version of Gloria Steinem, careening around the room in an electric wheelchair like a deranged Texas Valkyrie. She is outraged that her daughter will be objectified in this sexist, violent piece of celluloid trash and will do anything to stop it. She enlists the aid of her other daughter, the long-suffering Hildy (Sarah Wallis), who seems, however, more loyal to her sister. Elizabeth Neidel, deftly playing several roles, completes the madcap cast.
Will our young heroine be disgraced, murdered, or both? You’ll have to see the play, which is performed, incidentally, in one hour and twenty minutes. Director Freddie Ashley indicates that the play tickles his funny bone, and he wrings every bit of lunging humor and nuttiness out of Ms. Moore’s work that’s there, and then some; but even though the play was well received at the prestigious Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, 2009, audience reaction will vary. Humor is a tricky thing.
It’s well known among actors that genuine comic talent (say, Nathan Lane) is one the theatre’s rarest gifts. Mr. Benzinger, for example, is a fine, sensitive actor, but I don’t think slapstick is really his shtick. This cast is energetic and talented, but only Ms. McCook has a huge comedic gift; the whole play is riding on her zany, round-the-bend looniness. Even when she’s offstage, you feel her presence.
But enough quibbling. “Slasher” is a firecracker of a way to start your summer; and Lord knows, we can all use some belly laughs about now. Go for it.