The Pumpkin Pie Show: Amber Alert
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
October 14, 2010
Clay McLeod Chapman has a knack for infusing some of the most deplorable characters with real heart-wrenching humanity. In Amber Alert he gives us five new short stories inspired by actual current events that will amuse as much as they will at times horrify you.
Chapman opens the evening with a story about a high school wrestler obsessed with winning who conceals the fact that he has a very contagious skin disease so he can wrestle in the championships. The incomparable Hanna Cheek is next up with a hilarious story about a woman trying to rekindle her marital sex life by having her hymen restored. Next is Hannah Timmons with a great story about a kid in Texas who finds the diary of the Israeli astronaut killed when the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon reentry. From there we go back to Cheek with a twisted story about a newly divorced special-ed teacher who finds solace in the arms of one of her young autistic students. Chapman delivers the final and certainly the darkest story of the night, about a convicted pedophile who is trying to overcome his urges by taking very a drastic step.
Chapman's writing in Amber Alert is as dark and funny as ever but I noticed a little refinement in a couple of these pieces, especially the story about the astronaut's diary. He is a master of the slow reveal, his stories all unfold in a way that makes you feel like you're walking down a dark alleyway not knowing what's going to be around the next corner, but these stories reveal a new infusion of innocence and heart that I really enjoyed. RADIOTHEATRE provides an original score for the entire evening. I liked a lot of the background sound effects and the score is good as well, though at times I felt it was trying to spoon feed me the pathos of the story with soaring violins before the storyteller had a chance to get there.
Chapman's performances are excellent. I really enjoyed his performance of the wrestler's story. He juggles several distinct characters and exudes copious amounts of energy in the form of passion and lots of sweat. In his telling of the pedophile story he creates a character that you know you're supposed to despise but he somehow manages to make you feel for sorry for him. He does start the story in a bit too high of an emotional state and has little room to grow by the end. but this character and his story left the biggest impression on me. Hanna Cheek never ceases to amaze me. She is hilarious in everything she does. She also brings pure honesty and vulnerability to every character she creates. She is subtle with her expressions and precise with her gestures and character voices. Cheek is superb. Hannah Timmons tells the astronaut story and she does a great job with it. She plays the innocence of a child very well.
Amber Alert is an excellent installment of the on-going Pumpkin Pie Show. Chapman and his crew have created an indispensable show and they are a driving force behind the NYC storytelling scene. If you have never seen a Pumpkin Pie Show before, this one is a good one to start with. If you are already a fan, don't miss this one. It has all the twisted wit you've come to expect from Chapman along with some stellar performances.