BUCKET OF BLOOD–THE MUSICAL
Some Mo’ Productions
at Factory Theater
With two long-running shows to his credit–Reefer Madness, adapted from the hokey antimarijuana movie of the same name, and Attack of the Killer B’s, a glorious pastiche of cult horror films, among them Night of the Living Dead, Friday the 13th, and Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman–director Sean Abley has clearly found his niche: comic stage adaptations of cult movies. His current production, Bucket of Blood–The Musical, is adapted from Roger Corman’s 1959 horror film A Bucket of Blood, about a busboy/artist driven to murder to create his exceptionally lifelike statues; it’s essentially a word-for-word, beat-for-beat appropriation of Charles Griffith’s original screenplay.
But this time the translation of the movie to the stage feels forced. Where past productions have been better than the films they spoofed, this one doesn’t even come close to equaling the power, either comic or horrific, of the original. Of course on opening night Factory Theater was broiling hot, and by the end of the show all the actors were red-faced and bathed in sweat. But there’s a much deeper problem here than the weather.
A Bucket of Blood, unlike Reefer Madness or even Night of the Living Dead, is a masterpiece of its genre. More black comedy than scary movie–ads promised, “You’ll be sick, sick, sick–from LAUGHING!”–A Bucket of Blood is well written and reasonably well acted, and has a tight structure, a fast-moving story, and surprisingly three-dimensional characters. The film was reportedly shot in only five days, yet it contains remarkably few of those awkward moments that make for great unintentional comedy (such as the attempts in Reefer Madness to show us “normal family life,” which succeed only in making the dope fiends more attractive).
More important, every element and character in A Bucket of Blood–the junkies, the art dealers, the undercover cops, the bearded poet who starts the movie by declaiming, “I will talk to you of art / for there is nothing else to talk about / for there is nothing else”–is essential to the story, which is basically a comic inversion of the Pygmalion legend: artist falls in love with woman and yearns to turn her into a statue.
All of which is bad news for adapters David Springer and Marssie Mencotti, who would have had to work pretty hard to create a stage play that wasn’t inferior to the film. What they have managed to create is a work that’s too reverential to be called a spoof and too silly, slapdash, and unfocused to work as comedy.
Most often it feels like an extended sketch from a relatively witty college show. Much of the comedy works (one character’s sexual advances are rebuffed with the line “I’m a beautiful woman. I deserve better”), but too many scenes depend on the charm of the actors inhabiting them. And charm was in short supply the night I saw the show.
Most of the songs, written by Springer and Nicholas Tremulis, are fine and memorable; a few are even glorious, including a moving ballad the junkie Naolea sings to the busboy/artist, Walter Paisley. Unfortunately the songs usually don’t advance the story, and there just aren’t enough of them. Long sections of the show scream out to be musicalized, especially the first 15 or so minutes. It’s as if the show opened before Tremulis and Springer finished transforming it into a musical.
HOW COULD SUCH A MONSTER COME TO BE?
Yet compared to Maestro Subgum’s abysmal How Could Such a Monster Come to Be?, Bucket of Blood is a comic masterpiece.
With their predilection for sly in-jokes, intentionally obscure stories, and the hip safety of pomo, boho irony, the folks at Maestro Subgum and the Whole (and their theatrical alter ego, Curious Theatre) have made a career out of dancing on the edge of self-indulgence. But until now, by plan or plain dumb luck, this band of clever writers, actors, and musicians didn’t fall off. Even the most self-indulgent of Maestro Subgum/Curious Theatre’s recent works–In, in which Jenny Magnus and Liz Payne, playing Jenny Magnus and Liz Payne, spent their stage time sitting on a half-finished set, painting, chatting quietly, listening to the radio, and generally acting like a pair of working stiffs enduring yet another boring day on the job–made some interesting points about work and performance.
This time, however, Maestro Subgum hasn’t been so adept. Messy, loutish, and long, How Could Such a Monster Come to Be? takes way too much time to say very little–and provides precious little entertainment along the way. It’s supposedly the story of Maestro Subgum’s lead singer, Lefty Fizzle (Beau O’Reilly), and his quest to put his band back together after something (no one ever explains what) separated them. One by one we’re introduced to the members–Michael Greenberg, Jenny Magnus, Bob Jacobson, Colm O’Reilly–as Fizzle runs into them on the road.
But Fizzle has a hard time persuading them that his road is the one to follow. They all have different ideas about their destiny–one wants to start a vegetarian restaurant, another a haberdashery. And so, for an hour and a half, we get to watch each misguided, mostly undramatic dream fall apart, until the nearly complete band finds itself in an agent’s outer office waiting to audition for a man named Schwartz.
Naturally, by the unwritten rules of stage, movie, and rock musicals, the reunited band will pass this audition with flying colors. But before it does the evening is extended by ten more minutes as a guest performer “auditions” for Schwartz before Maestro Subgum. On opening night this guest spot was taken by frantic storyteller Timothy Buckley, whose intriguing work might have come off better had it not been prefaced by the dreariest 90 minutes I’ve ever spent at Remains.
This mess was written by four of Chicago’s stronger and more imaginative writers–Jeff Dorchen, Bryn Magnus, Jenny Magnus, and Beau O’Reilly–which only reinforces my prejudice against committee-written projects. (A camel, my father used to say, is a horse designed by committee.) Everyone involved has done better work elsewhere.