Alice in Slasherland
nytheatre.com review by Will Fulton
March 20, 2010
Vampire Cowboys seems to have it all—a fervent and growing audience, the boundless energy of dedicated collaborators, and total confidence in their mission of producing "theater for the geek-chic geeky kid in all of us." Fans know that walking into a VC show they can expect razor-sharp, pop culture-informed comedy, impressive feats of pulse-pounding stage combat, and confident storytelling. Their latest offering, Alice in Slasherland at the HERE Arts Center, readily delivers on all of those fronts.
Qui Nguyen's script crackles with a wit that is as surgically precise as his fight choreography. Drawing from such VC-standard sources as comic books, video games, and '80s/'90s teen films, Nguyen weaves a story that is both deeply familiar and original. It is difficult to parse out Robert Ross Parker's deft direction from the text—rarely will you see two artists so simpatico from years of collaboration and friendship, such that the resulting work can only be described as a Vampire Cowboys show.
Set in a teen movie suburbia, Alice in Slasherland opens with our hero Lewis (played by a charmingly hapless Carlo Alban) psyching himself up to declare his love for his best friend Margaret at the big Halloween party. One thing leads to another, Margaret's affections are stolen by the jock du jour, and Lewis inadvertently unleashes the minions of Hell upon the world. Didn't high school suck? It's then up to Lewis, Margaret, a mysterious woman named Alice, and a demonically possessed teddy bear to beat back the impending Apocalypse by the only means they can: "With violence. Lots and lots of violence." While the plot is just a recombination of all-too-familiar tropes (though none of them has anything to do with Alice in Wonderland, which is made light of a few times throughout the show), it's the way that Nguyen and Parker are able to intelligently recombine and riff on them that makes the show such a delight to watch. Beyond just a penchant for kung fu battles with demons, they have also clearly internalized a refined sense of storytelling and pacing that allows this piece to transcend simple nostalgia.
The strong text and direction are supported by a universally impressive cast and crew. Amy Kim Waschke manages the impressive feat of being both eerily inhuman and genuinely empathetic as a demon fighting her own nature. Andrea Marie Smith as Lucifer proves herself a formidable triple threat as actor/singer/fighter. Sheldon Best deserves particular commendation for his outstanding work with David Valentine's impeccable puppets, making Edgar the Bear one of the show's highlights. He achieves that elusive alchemy of imbuing the character with a totally convincing vitality while never hiding—and at moments jokingly drawing attention to—his presence as puppeteer. Matthew Tennie's video design is also worthy of note. His intermission film explaining the plot of Alice in Wonderland stands alone as a delightful bit of comedy by itself, and the show's opening film, The Devil's Usher, is perhaps the most labor-intensive but wonderful curtain speech I've ever seen.
With Alice in Slasherland, Vampire Cowboys has created a perfect remedy for the past few decades of ever-increasing ironic detachment. The whole experience is akin to childhood afternoons in the park, fighting back imaginary monsters with sticks: entirely aware of its own artifice in a way that does not at all diminish the pure joy of fantasy. Anyone who still harbors a geeky kid inside of them would be remiss to not go see it at their earliest convenience.