Carpenter Square presents “Slasher” with a Dull Edge
“Slasher” is a hilariously camp spoof of popular slasher movies now turned to theatre. A young waitress in Austin, Texas, Sheena McKinney, is savvy—and her chance meeting with a movie director is the opportunity of her lifetime. Her mother, Frances, is disabled, bound to her wheelchair. She is also quite mad—a combination of insanity and raging feminism boil within her. The younger sister, Hildy, is just trying to pass chemistry. Sheena is offered the chance to be the ‘last girl’ in the slasher movie, ‘Bloodbath,’ directed by Marc Hunter. He has just hired a new assistant, Jodi Josh. That is how this play begins.
Most people believe that an actor’s job is to understand his character and learn his lines, but that isn’t exactly right. Learning the lines is preparatory; it must be done first in order to begin the work. Like baking a cake is a delicious job that only begins after the baker has assembled the necessary ingredients. Once the actor has learned his or her lines and blocking, the real work begins. This is also when the fun begins, of course. But the cast of “Slasher” doesn’t seem to be having any fun. So, the audience isn’t having much fun either. While the cast has a tenuous grasp of their words, (possibly greater than they believe), it appears they haven’t allowed themselves enough time to do the actual inspired job of creating the character.
On the set of ‘Bloodbath’ are Sheena, who is the last girl, and Christi, who is all the other girls, the kindly new assistant, Jodi, and Marc Hunter, a misogynistic voyeur who’s on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Back home, Frances plots to bomb the movie set from her wheelchair. Young Hildy tries to reach her sister (who’s unavailable). Moore’s script is true camp: the opportunities for wit and wildness are endless—but Carpenter Square’s production doesn’t take advantage of the hilarious bombshells in the performers’ delivery. Terry Veal directs what could be an explosively hysterical spoof of a slasher movie, but nearly every scathing shot comes across as a dud! There are moments when the audience should be laughing uproariously, not tittering with embarrassment for the performers.
Veal is an accomplished director, and the cast’s excellent biographies exhibit extensive experience, so the poor performances are very disappointing. The only justification for such poor characterizations from good actors performing at this level is that they are still struggling to remember their lines.
The mad mother, Frances McKinney, is played by Ashley Bower. The character is an angry ultra-feminist, who must be sly, devious, and full of dastardly plots. Bower has the rage down perfectly, but that’s where it ends. There is almost no variation: no sense of secret, sinister plotting in any of her speech and her rage is only expressed in one interminable screech. (If only it were “intermittent!”) Frances apparently has some history with her daughter’s director, Marc Hunter. He evidently uses his slasher format to playact his own secret desires. He is charming, suave and a skillful seducer. He becomes nervously desperate, but still determined that ‘Bloodbath’ is not to be a failure. Marc Hunter is played by Peter Fischaber. He expresses his nervousness beautifully and there it is: no variation in tone or attitude, no charm, no conniving, only nervous anger at one single, shaking decibel.
The beautiful Sheena McKinney is portrayed by Jessica Biel. She is a very accomplished actress. In “Slasher” she does a somewhat convincing job. Her characterization has substance and depth, her facial expressions change and her ‘valley girl’ attitude comes across delightfully. Unfortunately, she cannot compensate for the lack of reaction or chemistry from the other leads. Had this production been an actual team effort, she could have been brilliant.
The assistant, Jody, is played by Matthew Moreillon. Moreillon does a great job as Jody. He attempts to assist the impossible prima donna director, Mr. Hunter, but the task of aiding Fischaber is insurmountable. Nevertheless Moreillon does his best. Little sister Hildy McKinney is played by Hannah Youngblood and she also has an impossible task. Her role allows few opportunities to save scenes. She also should be commended for doing her best.
The final character has multiple roles. Jessica Vanek portrays several (and varied) small parts. Her characters are a news reporter, a car hop, Christi Garcia (the first girl) Bridget, Marci, Beth, Madison and others. With this many bit roles, it is hard to separate them, but Vanek does a nice job with all of them. Her actions are less dependent on the other actors. That enables her to shine: she needn’t count on another actor to establish her personalities.
Clearly, Veal is usually a competent and successful director. Bower and Fischaber are experienced and respected actors. It is unfortunate that things didn’t come together for this show. The performance plays as though it were the first rehearsal off the script, yet no one could call ‘line!’ Instead, they struggle through courageously, but poorly. In the final analysis, it is the director’s responsibility to ensure that the actors learn their lines and take the necessary time to develop their characters’ personalities and moods. Either Veal neglected to do so, or the actors were unable or unwilling to fulfill their obligation in the time allotted. In short, this production of “Slasher” simply doesn’t cut it.
“Slasher” plays through November 10, 2018. Carpenter Square Theatre is located at 800 West Main in downtown Oklahoma City. For tickets and information visit www.carpentersquare.com or call the box office at 405-232-6500. Surely by the final weekend some brilliant individual will have sharpened the very dull knife the actors are currently using in “Slasher.”