A stage adaptation of a Stephen King horror novel may seem a counterintuitive choice for the winter holidays. But Theatre Couture’s latest creation, Carrie, is such campy, good fun that it’s enjoyable no matter what the season.
Just to be clear: This is not the ill-fated 1988 musical that has become synonymous with the phrase “Broadway flop.” Rather, it’s a brand new piece written by Erik Jackson, who has penned such previous Couture hits as Tell-Tale and Doll. The production stars Keith Levy, a.k.a. drag diva Sherry Vine, as the mousy, telekinetic Carrie White.
For those not familiar with the plot from Carrie‘s previous incarnations, which include the brilliant 1976 film starring Sissy Spacek, it concerns a high school teenager who’s ridiculed by her classmates. Carrie freaks out when she gets her first period, thinking she must be bleeding to death — and the derision of her peers Christine (Kathy Searle), Sue (Marnye Young), and Norma (Keri Meoni) makes matters worse. Sympathetic gym teacher Miss Gardner (Danielle Skraastad) tries to explain that menstruation is normal, though this conflicts with the stories told to Carrie by her mother, Margaret (Kate Goehring), a religious zealot.
Sue, feeling bad about her behavior towards Carrie, convinces her studly boyfriend Tommy (Matthew Wilkas) to take Carrie to the prom. Meanwhile, Christine and her boyfriend Billy (Rafi Silver) plan further humiliations for the downtrodden teen, but Carrie’s telekinetic powers ultimately enable her to exact a terrible revenge upon her tormentors.
Levy’s long face and hilariously dazed expressions give Carrie the pathetic, freakish look for which she’s teased by others. The performer has good comic timing and wonderfully expressive eyes, particularly when Carrie is using her telekinesis; yet there is enough heartfelt depth in his portrayal to hint at the tragic dimensions of Carrie’s story, even as the production successfully lampoons it.
All of the other roles are played rather broadly, but often to amusing effect. Skraastad’s butch, sexually aggressive Miss Gardner is terrific; Meoni has the audience eating out of her hand as she gives new meaning to the “ditzy blonde” stereotype; and Wilkas has a winning smile and a goofy charm that’s appropriate for Tommy.
Director Josh Rosenzweig tips his hat to the film version while comically exaggerating several of its iconic moments, so that the show is as much a parody as it is an homage. (Unfortunately, there is no stage equivalent of the movie’s final scene in the graveyard.) He is aided by brilliant special effects and puppetry, designed by Basil Twist, that manage to be simultaneously magical and cheesy; for example, the pig that Christine and Billy utilize as part of their scheme against Carrie is remarkably expressive and lifelike (Ceili Clemens is the puppeteer), while the wires used to make the telekinetic effects are clearly visible. All of this adds to the charm of the piece.
Inevitably, the material is stretched a bit too thin at times, and not all of the jokes land. Still, just when you think Theatre Couture has milked everything it can out of Carrie, the troupe does something else to make you smile, groan, or laugh your head off.