Theater Review - Creature features

Leading men make monsters of themselves in horror shows

Like Frankenstein's monster running amok, Sensurround Staging's The History of the Devil and Dad's Garage's Carrie White: The Musical each break loose from their origins in the horror genre.

In The History of the Devil, British horror writer Clive Barker literally puts Lucifer on trial for an evening that combines kinky S&M imagery with discourse worthy of George Bernard Shaw. Carrie White injects songs, dance and 1980s kitsch into its unauthorized parody of the Stephen King novel, the Brian DePalma film and the Broadway musical flop.

What the plays have in common, and what binds them to the traditions of classic monster movies, is the effectiveness of their leading actors. The most famous movements of horror films, such as Hammer Studios in the 1950s or Universal in the 1930s, wouldn't have had such staying power were it not for the men underneath the makeup. The likes of Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee brought enormous credibility to their roles, even when their dialogue consisted of growls.

Neither Patrick Wood as the Devil nor George Faughnan as telekinetic Carrie are marauding monsters in the usual sense. But they both play alienated "outsiders" with supernatural abilities, and both end their shows with blood on their hands.

Barker builds The History of the Devil on a wild premise, as a handful of human jurists are delivered by magical means to the shores of a hot, fetid African lake, the setting for Lucifer's trial for readmission to heaven.

The case features vignettes from recorded history, with Lucifer being cast down from heaven and his appearances at the Salem witch trials and the Nazi Holocaust. Directed by Justin Welborn, Devil includes 13 players and 36 speaking parts, with one called "Actor" (an overindulgent Steve Westdahl), who functions as the all-purpose narrator, stage manager and comic relief. But the play already has exposition and droll dialogue built into it, so the Actor mostly just makes a long play longer, which is no picnic in a place as poorly air-conditioned as the Art Farm.

The play has a persistently intriguing perspective, as the devil engineers evil throughout history but is himself frequently betrayed and manipulated. Wood dons no horns or red cape, first appearing onstage wearing golf clothes and carrying a club. He exudes an otherworldly confidence that make his emotionally vulnerable moments all the more surprising.

While Sensurround generates unexpected sympathy for the devil, Dad's Garage evokes considerable pity for Carrie White — which proves something of a problem for the musical, adapted by Faughnan and director Sean Daniels, with original music and lyrics by Joel Abbott. The original Carrie is a revenge story, with scenes of domestic abuse and high school bullying building to violent vengeance at the finale. The darkness of the source frequently encumbers the comedy of Carrie White: The Musical, which doesn't get as much lift as it needs from its campy high school setting.

Despite the incongruity of Faughnan in drag, it's hard to laugh when Carrie is persecuted by her cruel but popular classmates. When the show finds the right comic key, the humor is liberating. Doyle Reynolds, literally thumping a Bible as Carrie's Jesus-freak mother, berates her daughter with the gospel song "Eve Was Weak." When Tommy (Z. Gillispie) invites Carrie to the prom, he leads her in a dance in which Faughnan is hilariously awkward, then even more hilariously enthusiastic. There's also an amusing "shot" of the four popular girls walking in seductive slow motion to "Cherry Pie."

Daniels cleverly makes use of the entire theater during the prom scene, slamming the doors when all hell breaks loose. But for a playhouse that's put live car chases on stage with its Action Movie shows, Carrie White does less with Carrie's telekinetic powers than you'd expect, and her big killing spree ends surprisingly quickly.

As a new play, Carrie White's story is rather choppy (no pun intended) and it doesn't quite live up to the theater's standard for goofball spectacles. It's still light, low-brow diversion that aims for the funny bone while The History of the Devil goes for the throat.

The History of the Devil plays in repertory through July 27 at the ART Farm, 835 Wylie St. Call 404-584-2078 for times. $12. Carrie White: The Musical plays through July 27 at Dad's Garage Theatre, 280 Elizabeth St. Thurs.-Sat. at 8 p.m., July 14 and 21 at 5 p.m. $12-$20. 404-523-3141.??

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