Watery execution of fierce concept
|Strangeloop Theatre & Chemically Imbalanced Comedy presents|
Review by Lauren Whalen
Comic books have a lot to offer: an alternative form of storytelling, memorable characters, interesting plots and gorgeous, devastating art. I’m a recent convert, in large part because of the medium’s plethora of female-driven stories. Add to that a lifelong love of gore, and I was very excited for Strangeloop/CIC Theater’s production of Hack/Slash, the second adaptation of Tim Seeley’s horror-comic series. Sixty minutes later as curtain call commenced, I was sorely disappointed. What could have been an action-packed hour of bloodshed and girl power was instead a slogging, largely bloodless mess.
Hack/Slash follows heroine Cassie Hack (Jean E. Burr), a former social outcast whose anxiety-prone mother Delilah (Erika Napoletano) takes to eliminating those who give Cassie a hard time at school. As an adult, Cassie picks up disfigured giant Vlad (Tim Lee) and the two travel the country destroying the lives of serial killers who just won’t stop serial killing, even after they’re burned, impaled and shot. “Hack/Slash” the comic book series ended its run in May 2013, but was recently relaunched as “Hack/Slash: Son of Samhain” by Image Comics. The first theatrical adaptation, featuring a different script, was produced in 2005 by New Millennium Theatre Company. Both productions have been done in conjunction with creator Tim Seeley.
Comic book adaptations can be difficult. Look at films: for every “Avengers”, there’s a “Green Hornet”. And live theater often doesn’t have the budget for spectacular effects (though even when it does, there’s potential for disaster a là Spider Man: Turn Off the Dark). Hack/Slash often resorts to slow transitions, poor staging and ill-advised production choices, such as leaving a theater window open on a 40-degree night, just for one moment in the show. The script is disjointed, more a series of vignettes with over-exposition in the first half and under-exposition in the second (for example, one serial-killer villain resembles the Joker and makes a lot of bad jokes with an annoying laugh. However, he’s never introduced or established in any way). Another villain is a possessed teddy bear, represented by a puppet – but it takes several minutes to realize you’re supposed to be looking at the puppet and not the actress attached to it. (as I’ve said before: just because Avenue Q used puppets successfully, doesn’t mean that other shows can or should.) While solid, the stage combat is very slow-paced. Finally, a voiceover in the form of a radio show discussing Cassie Hack and the serial killers she brings to “justice” could have been an excellent framing device, but instead is used once or twice before disappearing.
On the plus side, lead actress Burr has a solid, likable presence that supplements rather than contradicts Cassie’s permanent scowl. Cassie is angry, but with good reason, and I appreciated a show that acknowledged that an angry woman is not a terrible person at heart (even if she is a murderous vigilante). Lee has some nice moments as her loyal sidekick with a heart of gold and limited grasp of English. Author J. Rohr makes his stage debut with a fun double role that puts his imposing proportions to good use. And what bloodshed existed is appropriately campy and horrifying, splashing on the first two rows of the audience.
As a theatrical production, Hack/Slash needs both more and less. More elements that tie the story together, more violence, more action, and less drawn-out moments, slow transitions and dragging stage combat. I’m intrigued by the original comic book and will check it out – hopefully I won’t be as disappointed.
Hack/Slash continues through November 1st at Chemically Imbalanced Theater, 1422 W. Irving Park (map), with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm. Tickets are $15, and are available online through BrownPaperTickets.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at StrangeloopTheatre.org. (Running time: 60 minutes, no intermission)
Jean E. Burr (Cassie Hack), Tim Lee (Vlad), Miona Lee (Emily Cristy), Erika Napoletano (Acid Angel, Delilah Hack), Christopher Prchal (Waking Man, Ensemble), Pete Navis (Dr. Gross, Ensemble), Richard John McLain (Mortimer Strick, Ensemble), J. Rohr (Peter LaPage, X-O), Melissa Nelson (Paramedic, Ensemble), Kara Charlton (Ashley, Ensemble), Renee Lynn Jackson (Hibachi Devil, Ensemble)
behind the scenes
Brad Gunter (director), Letitia Guillaud (production manager), John Wefler (stage manager), Barbara Charlene (violence design), Christopher DeNardo (assistant violence design, choreography), Carrie Campana (costume design), Chris Corwin (lighting design), Keith Gatchel (sound design), Jay Gish (projection design), Mel Gill (props and blood design), Mike Wozniak (graphic designer), Maria Burnham (marketing), Holly Robison, Allison McCorkle (marketing, events), Austin D. Oie (photos)