It’s a “fartire.” That’s what Phil Johnson and Ruff Yeager call their “unique combination of farce and satire.” It’s based on the B-movies of the Fifties, where monsters from who knows where threaten to obliterate the whitebread status quo.
First and foremost: She-Rantulas has truly funny bits and evokes depth-charge laughter. Johnson, a Craig Noel Award winner and one of San Diego’s leading comic actors, plays Betty (Crocker?), a growingly addled woman who may have been abducted by aliens – or was a man abducted by aliens, given a sex-change, and impregnated by tarantula-like beings from beyond.
That explains why her daughter, eight-year-old Suzie, is growing strange appendages and harboring heinous thoughts. And why males are disappearing at an alarming rate.
And also why denial runs rampant at 1984 Main Street, Terrytown, USA. When Betty admits that Suzie’s “different,” a neighbor chimes in: “this is crazy talk! So [she] just has a few extra arms and legs!”
Also in the denial vein: “We’re Americans. If we just ignore it, it’ll go away.”
It’s too bad people couldn’t watch a 50’s sitcom retrospective – even just bits from “Father Knows Best,” or “My Three Sons” - to appreciate how accurately Johnson and Yeager recreate the lock-step, traditional values of those shows.
For example, when proto-fascist Fred exclaims “the things you gals can do with cheese!” the line gets a huge laugh today, but would have fit right in on “Ozzie and Harriet.”
She-Rantulas is a world premiere. With a thorough tightening, it could really be something. It currently plays two hours without an intermission. All four scenes take too long to develop. Cut 15 minutes of excessive business and repetitions (the similar murders, especially), and no one would miss them.
The Diversionary production is obviously a labor of love. Everyone in the five person cast, nicely directed by Yeager, makes a contribution: Fred Harlow and Andy Collins’ in multiple roles (in drag); Tony Houck as Suzie, the pre-teen from hell, or Alpha Centauri. Melinda Gilb stars in multiple roles and stops the show when one of her characters throws a scene-stomping tantrum.
And Johnson is special as Betty. Sure, he’s melodramatic and campy to the max. But so is Betty. Johnson registers touching emotional truth, even though he, well, over-glazes the canapés.
Chad Jaeger’s set is pure 1957; the gaudy pink walls (which Luke Olson’s lighting bathes in blood reds) make for an aesthetic horror show.
Jennifer Brawn Gittings’ costumes are a parade of '50s fashions for women, but with a catch: she designed most of them for male actors. Aided by Peter Herman’s wigs, part of the fun is seeing how one actor can exit with one distinct look and re-enter — often in a jiff — as someone else.