KEZ Review

Sunday, April 21, 2013
99.9 KEZ Radio website

God bless Ron May and his Stray Cat Theatre. Its productions may not be the kind that mainstream audiences would want or even enjoy, but every theatre community needs at least one group with a bad boy reputation that upsets the theatrical status quo. For the valley, that would be Stray Cat.

The final production of Stray Cat’s current season, Chick With D**** (it’s full, unexpurgated title to be found by Clicking Here) could not be more appropriate. Written by Minneapolis based university teacher, Trista Baldwin, Chicks is a parody of the sixties exploitation films, primarily though not totally relegated to Russ Meyer’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! the 1965 independent movie that featured bad girl biker chicks stealing a few cars, killing innocent guys along a desolate highway, kicking each other around in the desert, and mouthing campy dialog.

Russ Meyer was known in Hollywood as King of the Skin Flicks, and even though there wasn’t a great deal of skin shown in Pussycat, Baldwin’s script keeps true to the spirit of Meyer’s provocative gender switching style and camps it further, which is exactly what a parody based on this kind of source material needs.

Ron May’s production also keeps true to the spirit of Meyer’s independent films by having his play look intentionally low-budget with it’s largely empty stage and high-school styled painted desert backdrop. To present Chicks in any other way would be to take away the low-rent atmosphere that Baldwin’s highway biker epic demands.

The plot is nothing. Varla (Shelly R. Trujillo) and her Satan’s Cherries arrive on their bikes, mimed in the same way the Python knights of Spamalot ride their horses. The girls park their hogs in the Arizona desert town of Palo Verde, the home of nuclear power where they spar with a rival biker gang. “Nothing like the smell of toxic waste,” exclaims good-girl-gone-bad, Vespa (Emily Rubin), one of Varla’s Cherries.

The cast attack their characters full on, their dialog either snarled, shouted or shrieked, where every moment is delivered with the pantomime tradition of broad exaggeration and where characters, when talking to each other, look directly at the audience. When Varla kicks, punches or slaps another character - which she does casually and continually – we hear the crack amplified over the sound system. On the opening night performance, some of the thwack! sound effects didn’t always correspond with the visual, but, of course, it’s always possible that the delay was just as intentional as any other tacky moment, adding to the low-production value of the piece. And even if it wasn’t intentional, with this kind of rough-around-the-edges approach, how could you tell?

The style is loose to the point where Chicks occasionally looks as though we’re watching a plodding rehearsal rather than the finished piece. It’s the kind of production where if an actor momentarily forgot her line we would never know; another player could easily cover for her and keep the movement flowing. Baldwin’s script isn’t exactly witty – there are no clever or creatively funny lines – it’s all in the heightened, pronounced delivery. Three go-go girls, Aya Nameth, Kellie Dunlap and Cassie Chilton, dressed more like they just walked out of a New Orleans bordello than a disco nightclub, constantly gyrate around a pole on raised, chain-fenced platforms on either sides of the stage. When needed, they prompt the audience to Cheer! Boo! or Applaud! creating a never ending gladiatorial response from the house. All three are fun to watch, and in a strange way, just as the whole affair looks as if it’s about to fall apart, their high-heeled presence actually holds the play together.

When the big climax of a production is watching two biker chicks mud wrestle in a child’s backyard plastic play pool you know you’re in the presence of glorious bad taste. Surprisingly, the show calls for little foul language, but Chicks is definitely a comedy for adults – that is to say, for adults with an adolescent sense of humor. The easily offended should steer clear.