"Things That Go Bump" at Onstage Atlanta, October 19-21, 2019
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Title: A Smooth Ride
"Things That Go Bump" mixes together Halloween-related music and short plays with material that is on the spooky spectrum, if not exactly featuring characters that might appear in costume on Halloween. It’s all designed to give chills, thrills, and laughs in equal measure. Performed on the "Veronica’s Room" set, the visual elements specific to "Things That Go Bump" are restricted to costumes and set pieces. Luckily, the "Veronica’s Room" set fits enough of the shows that it never distracts from the material.
Each act starts with a musical number. At the start of the show, it’s Linda Marie Johnson strumming her guitar and singing "Bad Moon Rising" to get us in the Halloween mood. At the start of the second act, it’s the highlight of the show -- Gretchen Farmer in a dance number as a witch manipulating her daughter Aidyn Gordon into ghastly contortions to the song "Come Little Children." In the middle of both acts, we have Lisa Ball Gordon singing as a witch with fire at her fingertips.
The plays start with John Patrick Bray’s "Love-Bites," about a couple (secretly a werewolf and a vampire) on a date in the genteel Deep South. With Jessie Kuipers as the seemingly demure vampire and Stephen DeVillers as her suitor, the play crackles with delights under Melissa Simmons’ direction.
Next up is Peter Dakutis’ "Witchy Harmony," in which two cauldron-stirring witches (Irene Polk and Katie Wickline) mix up a potion to give to the warlocks who are soon arriving for dates arranged on the witchy online equivalent of eHarmony. When a mortal (Eric Jones) shows up instead, looking for a spell or potion to entice a woman he has his eyes on, he has a drink of the potion. Since it contains ground-up Viagra (among other more beastly ingredients, plus Old Spice), the witches find a satisfactory end to their evening, even if the warlocks have never shown up. Matthew Carter Jones’ direction uses the costumed mortal’s sword to comically erotic effect.
Scott Rousseau’s "Man Eating Vegetables" shows a woman (Jessie Kuipers) exhorting a man (Stephen DeVillers) to eat a plate of vegetables. After all, will it kill him? The answer comes quickly in this brief play, neatly directed by Melissa Simmons to make full use of her cast’s fine comic skills.
John Babcock’s "Halloween Costume" takes place in a costume shop, as the clerk (Peggy Marx) hands a customer (Monica Bestawros) a bag of erotically suggestive merchandise, then helps a couple (Hannah Marie Craton and Kristian Rodriquez) find suitable costumes. Only problem is, all the women’s costumes are sexy or slutty versions of stock Halloween characters. When the shop owner (Kat Nuttle) appears, we get an inkling why. Under Charles Hannum’s direction, this sub-par selection falls flat.
The first act ends with Daniel Guyton’s "Dracula Gets Gingivitis," with diminutive Matthew Carter Jones as Dracula and gigantic Josh Vining as his dentist. It’s a mildly entertaining skit, in which Dracula trades his blood-sucking services for an upcoming root canal, but under Mr. Guyton’s direction the play never really jells.
The second act takes a turn toward the eerie. After the spectacular opening dance, Jonathan Cook’s oft-performed "Reflections" shows a married couple (Morgan Henard and Laura Meyers) consulting a therapist (Fred Galyean) following the disappearance of their daughter. Kate Guyton’s direction gradually builds the spookiness of this selection, making it one of the most successful selections of the evening.
Scott Rousseau’s "I’m Not Going" continues the mood. A young man (Kristian Rodriquez) doesn’t want to go to a funeral, and is urged separately by his father (Walter Magnuson) and his mother (Cat Rondeau) to attend. He finally agrees, and we find out in a final twist who the funeral is for. Charles Hannum’s direction is a bit clunky, but the play works.
Sylvia Veith’s "Broken Chainsaw" consists of three scenes, involving a chainsaw-wielding sadist (Fred Galyean) and his victim (Amanda Lynn Joyce), with the offstage voice of his mother (Laura Meyers) chiming in from time to time. At the end of the first scene, we assume it’s a brief one-joke skit, like the earlier "Man Eating Vegetables." The second scene develops the characters before coming to what seems another conclusion. Then the third scene commences, showing some role reversal, and the show finally comes to an end. It’s well-directed by Stephen Banks, but is nevertheless overly long for the evening.
Steven D. Miller’s "He Likes Me for My Brain" may be a trifle too long too, but Lisa Ball Gordon’s direction keeps it lively. Cheery Jen (Gretchen Farmer) has been followed home from a party by a man (Jesse Farmer) whom she introduces to her parents (Lisa Ball Gordon and John Gordon). He speaks only one word -- "brains" -- which the family continually misinterprets. In this family affair (real-life parents, daughter, and son-in-law), Ms. Gordon cleverly blocks the action to keep the man (a zombie, in case you didn’t guess) just at arm’s length throughout most of the show. The comedy is tinged with just a touch of terror at the end.
The final selection is Peter Dakutis’ "The Satin Worshippers." Two uneducated rubes (Morgan Henard and Josh Vining) are looking for like-minded people online and are actively attempting to summon a demon from hell, but who shows up is a genteel satin-lover (Kate Guyton) who has read their misspelled online post. This breezy comedy, nicely staged and directed by Stephen Banks, shows the woman converting the men from Satan worshippers to satin worshippers.
Lighting and sound effects enhance the action, although cues may not always be spot-on. Costumes are above par for a one-weekend show on a borrowed stage, and the whole production comes together well. Daniel and Kate Guyton have curated an evening’s worth of Halloween entertainment that celebrates the season in a variety of ways. Witches, vampires, werewolves, zombies, ghosts, the depraved, the supernatural -- what’s not to like?