Paper Wing’s adaptation of a cult musical film yields gory, campy fun.
Thursday, September 30, 2010
The story goes that a friend’s bankruptcy repossession ordeal in the mid-’90s inspired Darren Smith and Terrance Zdunich to write the dark and twisted musical Repo! The Genetic Opera, adapted into a 2008 cult film with Paul Sorvino and Paris Hilton.
As is the M.O. of most science fiction, Repo! projects the future consequences of today’s actions, which enters territory that’s sometimes political, sometimes sociological and often psychopathic. The writers pushed boundaries everywhere, which explains how the rock opera found itself in the house of Paper Wing.
There’s a retracting screen upon which a comic book panels zip through the backstory, which ties together the lives of 17-year-old Shiloh Wallace (Allyson Bojoques), one of the few innocent people you’ll be thankful exists in this production; her doting father Nathan Wallace (Lj Brewer), who is secretly the ruthless bounty hunter Repo Man; Rotti Largo (Peter Eberhardt), the greedy patriarch of twisted biotech company GeneCo; his endentured servant Blind Mag (Penelope Morgan); and his three offspring, psychopathic Luigi (Shane Dallmann), self-obsessed Pavi (Tyler Vocelka) and spoiled Amber (Bailey Lee).
In post-apocalyptic 2056, GeneCo sells badly needed organs on a finance plan, with delinquencies triggering a Repo Man to repossess the “property,” which is hilariously gory. Shiloh, cloistered in her home by her single father because she’s sick, badly wants to see the outside, good or bad.
You’ll recognize some big political themes – economic enslavement to uncaring corporations, the separation between the haves and the have nots – and the blood does fly and splatter, but at its heart the play pumps an emotional story about fathers and daughters, one that recalls Verdi’s Rigoletto.
The acting is over-the-top campy. The leads are good – and Bojoques (as Shiloh with her intense eyes) and Vocelka (as a slithery, preening Pavi) are really good. The supporting cast is not wasted, adding much dimension to the background, from the upper-crust elites, to a Tim Burton-esque Greek chorus, to a SWAT team. But the acting alone isn’t what carries this production.
The music. Wow. A four-person band recreates as much atmosphere and dynamics as one could ask for an indie community production. The band was elevated above the action (as it was in The Wall) and from there it rained down glammy metal guitar, psychedelic synth squeals, sinister bass and dynamic percussion, channeling Black Sabbath, Rocky Horror Show and the Dracula song from Forgetting Sarah Marshall. There’s a lot of good musical numbers – Blind Mag’s aria with acoustic guitar is a stunner. But the music and acting don’t carry this production by themselves.
The costumes are sumptuous and sinister, mostly black, decidedly goth, steam-punk, fetishistic and Victorian, with corsets, leather pants and high boots. Makeup was artistically garish or grotesque. You add a post-apocalyptic set that looks like everything has been cobbled together from ruins, with darkness and light and even fog put to use, and you’ve got yourself the pieces to some high-style lowbrow stuff.
This is divisive theater. Paper Wing is aiming at its core audience, who show up in droves for fall productions like Rocky Horror and last year’s The Wall. If you don’t possess or haven’t cultivated the precise comedy radar that knows when violence has crossed into caricature, recognizes that perversion can mean inclusion to another person, or can appreciate the gleefully dark, this might not be for you. And that would suck. Because Repo! rocks. The crowd agreed, heaping applause and laughs on many of its musical numbers and scenes. It’s frayed at the edges and the music and voices sometimes compete, but it works. It works because Paper Wing owns the spirit of it, the one that says, “We are freaks and this is our world.”
That’s what carries this production. Hell, maybe the whole company.