Space Case

Everyone's favorite bad movie gets the stage treatment

May 23, 2001 at 4:00 am
Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre, the insane cousin of the St. Louis Shakespeare Company, presents a hilarious and affectionate live staging of everyone's favorite bad movie, Edward D. Wood Jr.'s Plan 9 From Outer Space. Also called Gravediggers From Outer Space (and there you have the whole plot), the original film is remembered for its atrocious acting, cheesy props and the absurd posthumous appearance of Bela Lugosi.

The ensemble and director Donna Northcott have an obvious fondness for the film; they have come not to mock Ed Wood but to celebrate him. Without winking at the audience and avoiding camp (well, for the most part), the cast commits to the ludicrous story and bad writing as earnestly as if the script were by the Bard himself. And Northcott's storytelling is clearer than Woods'; the plot actually almost makes sense.

Drew Bell shines as the pompously annoying alien leader Eros, who famously tells the earthlings they are "stupid, stupid!" Bell manages to capture not only the character but also the brio of the original actor who played him (the wonderfully named Dudley Manlove), reading every line as if he just knows this is going to be his big break. Tony Michalak makes a great Tor Johnson, both pre- and post-zombie, and Mitch Herzog (who also adapted the movie for the stage) finds the perfect tonal groove as the monotonic Capt. Larry. Appropriately, two different actors (Dave Cooperstein and an enjoyable Dave Wassilak) play the Lugosi character, and the film's repeated use of the same clip gets a hilarious stage translation.

It helps to have seen the movie -- the folks next to me were sometimes puzzled as we around them roared -- but even if you haven't, it's a fun, totally silly evening at the theater. Although some of MSMT's special effects outshine the original's -- for instance, the dry ice (wow!) -- I did miss the shower curtain that served as the cockpit entrance in the film. Costume designer Carla Evans nicely outfits everyone in black and white, and the cardboard gravestones and Chinette flying saucers are credited to Peggy Knock. A curtain-raiser, "Are You Going Steady?", features Oscar Madrid and Rachel Jackson (who manages to find complexity in the most cardboard of characters) as two confused 1950s teens and sets the tone for the evening.