Cinderella is onstage at the Orpheum Theatre this week, creating a special opportunity for playgoers to experience back-to-back performances of the Disney classic and its dark doppelganger Carrie: the Musical, which runs through October 25th at Circuit Playhouse. Based on Stephen King's novel of the same name, Carrie tells the tragically prescient tale of a bullied teenage girl with telekinesis whose bloody prom night humiliation yields an even bloodier psychic rampage. It's also a Twilight Zone-like parable, forcing viewers to understand the title character in the context of her abusive fundamentalist Christian mother and her abrasive classmates and to ask who the real monsters are.
The musical is plagued by campy overtones and it wants for memorable tunes. In spite of this, Circuit's production is oddly moving. It effortlessly reflects a new American (horror story) normal — the mass shooting. Director Courtney Oliver has never been one to shy away from violence and seems to have a special affinity for the troubled and troubling material. She's assembled a sensitive, (mostly) sincere cast that balances the musical's tonal inconsistency with a raw emotional core.
Maggie Robinson's Carrie is awkward and clever, with a rich inner life and real Disney princess potential. She projects sweetness and bitter hurt. This Carrie may be a runt, but she's big enough to forgive her mother — played by the always excellent Carla McDonald — and her cruel classmates. But she won't be allowed to. That's not how the world works.
Carrie: the Musical has one great song: "The World According to Chris." It's an infectious bit of pop songcraft about the most important lessons learned in school: "Better to strike then get struck, better to screw then get screwed ... even if somebody bleeds." Chris is Carrie's antagonist and the chief mean girl/wicked stepsister of this Cinderella story. Brooke Papritz is a brutal vision of ambition-free entitlement and is fantastic in the role.
Carrie: the Musical never quite lives up to its pulpy source material. But if this musical horror story ever had a cultural moment, this, I'm sorry to report, is it. And, from the opening number to its bloody finish, Circuit's unvarnished production exceeds expectations.
An Actor in Purgatory is an unusual script for Our Own Voice Theatre Troupe (OOV). Unlike many of the company's unapologetically experimental works, this play about the life of film actor Peter Lorre seems like it might have a life beyond its death when OOV closes the show. It might even have — dare I say it — commercial appeal.
The conceit: As audience and actors, we've arrived in a liminal space — a theater that is also the mythological purgatory. The story goes something like this: Lorre, freshly dead of a cerebral hemorrhage, awakens in a place between life and afterlife where he's forced to examine his time on Earth and come to grips with his essential character. This is an often troubling, but ultimately liberating journey for Lorre, who launched his career in Germany working with great innovators like Jacob Moreno and Bertolt Brecht. He's best known to Americans (and probably to the world) for creating 20th-century cinema's archetypal foreign psychopath/creep in films ranging from M to The Maltese Falcon and various Roger Corman cheapies.
"[Fritz Lang] made me a murderer!" Bob Klyce's Lorre declares in naked frustration, parsing the freedoms afforded by a prison of success. Before the film M became an international success, Lorre was an actor of notable range. Afterward, he was seldom allowed to venture too far beyond the shadow of Lang's child killer.
In a roundabout way, the play is also as autobiographical as it is biographical. Our Own Voice's struggle to produce meaningful progressive content in a city that loves its Broadway musicals is reflected in Lorre's life story. The perfect Brechtian protagonist was always torn between the urge to be an artist and the need to feed himself.