Cardiff Giant

at CrossCurrents

This is comedy on the cheap: three guys onstage jumping in and out of a variety of characters, aided by a few godawful wigs and a minimum of props. But one nice thing about comedy is that you can get a lot of mileage out of “less is more” and keep your costs down to boot. Cardiff Giant’s The Mercy Ripper is very enjoyable in a goofy, bargain-basement sort of way.

And hey, there’s concept here too. The Mercy Ripper is a motion picture for the stage: actually a PBS-style documentary for the stage, called The Eye Behind the Patch, about the making of a slasher art film called The Mercy Ripper, which we are told was pulled from movie screens after mysteriously inspiring a spate of real murders. The “documentary” interweaves “footage” from Mercy Ripper with talking-head interviews with film company executives, an academic film theorist, Mercy Ripper’s star (now in a mental hospital), and various men and women on the street; oh yeah, there are also splices from TV news shows and commentary from idiotic TV film reviewers (“This movie actually challenged the way I look at life–and I didn’t appreciate that!”).

Of course, the central figure in any documentary about a cult movie is the director himself–here one Vladimir Santiago, wearing an eye patch and babbling away in a completely incomprehensible, possibly European language, a sort of gonzo George Romero meets Erich von Stroheim.

All the characters in this movie-within-a-movie-on-the-stage are played by three young actors–John Hildreth, Marc Stopeck, and Mark Ray Hollmann; but they don’t stop with just people. The “footage” from Mercy Ripper includes several atmosphere scenes involving weird and scary camera angles of doors, skies, life-support machines, and so on–and these, too, are acted out by the cast, with a keen sense of just how a horror-flick auteur would plot out such moments. The only things not directly in the hands of the actors are the well-timed lights and the mock-mysterious music–though the score is credited to actor Hollmann, who also appears to be the most naturally funny performer on the stage. The direction is by Hiram Bigelow.

To get more specific about the actual jokes in the show would be to spoil it; and I don’t really think the material would come off particularly well on paper anyway. The humor of Mercy Ripper lies largely in the audience’s visceral identification with the fast-paced activity of the actors as they dart in and out of their various guises. The show plays weekends in the upstairs space at CrossCurrents–the show goes on, we’re told, even though the bar itself has closed–and it’s worth a visit.