Son of Celluloid | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Son of Celluloid 

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Next Theatre Company.

A penny-ante gangster dies in a hole behind a movie screen, and his stomach cancer takes on a malevolent life of its own, devouring the movies and growing strong on the adoring energy pouring from the audience as they revel in westerns and romances, Eastwood and Monroe.

On one hand, this Clive Barker tale offers a fascinating take on the romance of the movies, our eagerness to forget who we are in favor of fantasy lives that are peroxide-charmed or tumbleweed-tough. On the other hand, it's a drawn-out fat joke, in which the protagonist, a 225-pound female usher, kills the bloblike monster by sitting on it. Adapted by Charley Sherman and Steve Pickering--the team who so beautifully brought Barker's In the Flesh to the Organic--this is an unfortunate exercise in Grand Guignol. As directed by Pickering, the play is balanced so precariously between horror and camp, pop philosophy and schlock, that it succeeds at virtually nothing. Told in flashback by the usher Birdy (Alison Halstead), the overwritten script includes so much exposition it's a wonder we're still confused by the end of the first act; but we are.

There are some fun moments. A giant eye glares at Birdy, accompanied by a blast of melodramatic music. A toy bunny lures a sweet victim into the dark. Marilyn Monroe seduces the cinema's assistant manager only to rip his eyes out and tuck them into her privates. Also entertaining is a montage of classic movie memories, nicely choreographed by Ann Boyd, as the monster attempts to seduce Birdy. But these are far outweighed by the ponderous pace, the incoherent design (the creature resembles a black sock puppet), and an unendurably long denouement. Too much talk, not enough terror.

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