The Plant that Ate Dirty Socks
nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
July 21, 2008
It's been a banner year for up-and-coming musical theater composer Joe Iconis, recipient of the 2007 Ed Kleban and 2006 Jonathan Larson Awards. In the span of a month or so, Iconis, has had two presentations of his work, The Black Suits at the Summer Play Festival, and now Theatreworks USA's free summer production of The Plant That Ate Dirty Socks, at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.
Based on Nancy McArthur's book of the same name, Plant is a less menacing version of Little Shop of Horrors, with characters as appealing and a score just as catchy. Essentially, the stories are the same: people raise plants that eat unorthodox food. In the case of Little Shop, it's body parts. Here, it's dirty socks.
Messy, too-cool-for-school seventh grader Michael sends away for magic beans (one of the ploys you'd find in the back of a comic book) and, with his nerdy, neatnik fourth grade brother Norman, they grow dueling plants which feed on, well, dirty socks. And it gets out of control and the townspeople and their friends start suspecting that Mom and Dad are hiding something.
For a family show, Iconis's score pushes the envelope in terms of style—it isn't the generic musical theatre sound I expected, but real rock (more Passing Strange than Spring Awakening), with catchy lyrics and a great beat (though a number of the songs sound the same). His script is often funny, as well, with a lot of laughs coming from the characters' usage of modern language (the expression "cool beans" got a hearty laugh from all the teenage camp counselors in the audience).
John Simpkins's production is great for children and their participation is expected and even encouraged in the opening announcement (through screaming and laughing and clapping—not actually going on the stage). You can tell the actors (all adults, for the record), feed on it and let it impact their performance, especially the two leads, Jason Sweet Tooth Williams and Lance Rubin. They (also including Lorinda Lisitza as Mom, Kilty Reidy as Dad, Lauren Marcus as Patty Jenkins, and Jeffrey Omura as Jason) are spirited, energetic, and clearly enthusiastic about the material. It's very refreshing to watch.
The sets, costumes, and lighting by Michael Schweikardt, Tracy Christensen, and Chris Dallos and moveable plants (designed by Eric Wright, maneuvered by Michael Schupbach) are appropriate and unobtrusive (except that dang plant that keeps eating the dirty socks!) and make you feel like you're in a comic book. Just make sure your socks are clean before you enter.