Monsters! Virgins! Men in dresses! ‘Hello Human Female’ goes camping
When you open the door to Ochre House — the Fair Park-adjacent performance space (it hardly qualifies as a theater even in the most generous of moods) where Audacity Theatre Lab is presenting its new show, "Hello Human Female" — you step directly into the action: 50 seats scattered in front of a unraked "stage" barely six feet deep. The set: Two cruddy folding chairs and a few painted panels hiding the actors and some props. If you use the bathroom during the show, the curtain speech warns, be sure to turn off the light before you exit to avoid disrupting the performance.
This is guerrilla theater in its most charmingly downscale incarnation.
It’s also a great example of how, in live theater, you really don’t need a huge fly-space or perfectly tailored costumes and state-of-the-art sound if you have heart and a point of view that connects with the audience.
About that last part: I’m not sure I have the slightest idea what the playwright, Matt Lyle, had in mind in writing "Hello Human Female." Point-of-view? Maybe in a psych ward. Lyle’s last play, "The Boxer," was a sentimental paean to silent films. This one sort of takes on the sci-fi genre, but does so with more camp. A coda at the end of "deleted scenes" seems to pay homage to the DVD era, but I’m not quite sure why.
Actually I am sure: Because Lyle wants to make you laugh, whether with references to a 1970s-era Riunite ad, a gag about how many shoes an octopus would need to steal or a hoard or marauding cats. All is fair game.
A pastiche of bits from "Young Frankenstein," "Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along Blog," "Mystery Science Theater 3000" and "The Rocky Horror Show," "Hello Human Female" is self-mocking and intentionally clunky in parts, unintentionally in others. All I know is, I laughed out loud. A lot.
Jeff Swearingen, Dallas’ preeminent comic genius at the moment, plays Blork, the Igor to Dr. Gorn’s Frankenstein. The creepy, Dr. Evil-like Gorn (Jeremy Whiteker) starts online dating in order to find a woman to spawn his intended army of yak-bee-human hybrids. He lures Tamela (Arianna Movassagh), a 37-year-old virgin who has spent her life under the oppressive thumb of her mother (Whiteker again), to his lair but she falls for Blork instead.
Mother disapproves ("He’s a patchwork of corpses!" she chides Tamela; "If his hands worked, they’d be all over you!"), so she sends Blork on a quest until he can prove his worth. During his travels, Blork meets a small boy (Becca Shivers) and a dotty old man (Scott Milligan) who mistake him for a dog.
In some ways, that’s the least weird of the many weirdnesses in this play … and I mean that in the best possible way. There’s nothing subtle about any of this, unless you count some of the slippery allusions to such diverse pop culture topics as "The Last of the Mohicans," "Of Mice and Men," "Lassie," Abbott & Costello, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "Top Gun," "Mommie Dearest" and "South Park." Indeed, "South Park’s" balls-to-the-wall absurdity seems to have been the inspiration for this commedia dell’arte picaresque.
As directed by Brad McEntire, pacing can veer way off. A "Get Smart"-like gag about footsteps down a hall drags out long after the joke has become stale, the pre-recorded narration was occasionally miscued and difficult to hear and some scenes just bombed.
But the cast is fearless with giddy brilliance. As the mother, Whiteker looks and sounds like Garth Brooks in drag: Southern trailer-trash with a cheap wig and inappropriate sexual energy. Shivers channels an enraged, spoiled tween given to tantrum with eerie intensity (and later creates wonderfully goofy "dialogue" while costumed as a yakbeesapien). Movassagh, North Texas’ reigning comedic soprano, get to sing "Somewhere Out There" while playing air guitar.
It’s Swearingen, though, who commands the audience’s focus. His lower lip perpetually askew, his shoulders held in a Chaplinesque slump, Swearingen is the most physical of actors, clowning and capering around recklessly while maintaining a sweet smirk on his empty face.
Swearingen’s endearing audaciousness is reminiscent of what made Adam Sandler stand out before he got so smug about his success. And it’s 10 feet away from you in a storefront on Exposition. Can’t beat that.
Ochre House, 825 Exposition Ave. Through March 7. Wednesdaysâ€“Saturdays at 8:15 p.m. $10â€“$15. 469-236-2726.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 27, 2009.