The reviewers' opinions are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of TheatreLouisville.org.
Reviewed by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2009, Keith Waits, all rights reserved.
The second play in the 33rd annual Humana Festival of New American Plays, Allison Moore's Slasher is a riotously funny excursion into the grisly but artificial world of low-budget horror films. A young girl named Sheena is recruited from her waitress job in Austin, Texas to take over the lead in a slasher movie filming nearby. Her dreams of easy money and a chance at movie stardom are complicated by secrets from the past of both the film's sketchy director and her invalid mother.
Ms. Moore seems to be satirizing the tropes of the modern day horror film in a manner not unlike the popular Scream movie series. But I think those movies are not as clever and ironic as they claim, instead reveling in the cheap, garish effects of the genre more than they should. For my money, this playwright has done a much better job of providing a story that allows for a strongly realized self-referential perspective on the horror film genre, as well as taking aim at the broader target of the independent film business as a whole. She digs just deep enough, and certainly mines the premise for all it's worth in terms of humor. This is a very funny play.
Director Josh Hecht pulls out all the stops, utilizing abrupt and dramatic changes in lighting and sound effects to mimic the overheated techniques of the slasher film, effectively accentuating the satirical bent of the play. He stages the action all over the Bingham Theatre, with actors often playing scenes from the audience, and with at least a few theatergoers getting a much closer view of the grisly proceedings than they may have bargained for. In a few instances the proceedings threatened to get out of hand, so active and rapid were the transitions, which underscore the feeling that the whole concept might make for a better film than a play, where editing could remedy some of the awkward and rushed moments.
The cast is particularly well chosen. As Sheena, Nicole Rodenburg provides the long-legged sex appeal that catches the director's eye, as well as the balance of naiveté and savvy that drives the character. Lusia Strus is hilarious and has many of the best lines as her sickly but tough-spirited mother. Mark Setlock perfectly illustrates the ego and hubris of the self-important film director. Lucas Papaelias nicely handles the under-written role of a local man who gets a job as the first assistant director, and Katharine Moeller is good playing the thankless character of Sheena's younger sister. But perhaps my favorite work of the evening was from Christy McIntosh, who vividly fleshed out several other characters, including a dim-bulb supporting player in the horror film and a representative of a local religious watchdog group who raises objections to the nature of the film's subject matter. This sort of utility casting in a play can prove a demanding challenge, but the charming Ms. McIntosh displayed a dexterous talent that nearly stole the show.
Although it may not be for the squeamish, since it freely indulges in horror film motifs and manages some frightful moments among the laughs, Slasher is a smart and well-mounted production that should delight audiences of theatre and movies.
Actors Theatre of Louisville