Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A tasteless treat

“Cannibal! The Musical” at the Eagle’s Lodge
Pictured: Polly and Alferd, photo by Michael Christopher.

Those insane folks at Theater Artists Olympia are at it again. They’re bringing back “Cannibal! The Musical,” the recent cult classic by Trey Parker, creator of "South Park" and the new Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon.”

It’s a wonderfully campy and hilarious play, but there were some glaring problems the night I saw it.

Problem number one: critics were invited to review a dress rehearsal a week before opening night when they were already several days behind due to technical problems beyond their control. Hardly anybody was ready — although Christian Doyle as the infamous cannibal Alferd Packer was either on top of his role or covered up awfully well. From his seriously nuanced in tender scenes with Silva Goetz as the reporter Polly Pry to over-the-top slapstick bits, Doyle was a joy to watch. Some of the other actors made major blunders; and the sets, lighting and promised special effects were not yet ready for prime time — all attributable to inviting the critics in too soon.

Problem number two was the irritating set pieces being dragged noisily across the rough concrete floor. It would have been better if they’d let us imagine most of the settings except for the portable jail cell. To be perfectly clear, I’m talking about set pieces, which were unfinished and beyond cheesy, not the props, some of which are absolutely necessary — such as the various body parts in this bloody, bloody romp.

I’ve never seen the script, which doesn’t actually exist. I’ve been told that in lieu of a script there are a few songs and an official adapter’s guide. Theater companies are free to do whatever they want with these. What this crew does with them is wonderfully campy and outrageous.

This true and tragic story of the real life Alferd Packer who led a crew of miners across the Rockies, was the only survivor of their arduous trip, and was tried and convicted for cannibalism, is turned into comical mayhem set to music with silly songs and costumes in the vein of Monty Python or “Saturday Night Live.”

Tim Goebel is entertaining as the narrator, who manages to convey some really absurd lines with great subtlety and mock seriousness. Goetz as Polly Pry and Tom Sanders as Miller the butcher both play their parts almost as if it were a serious play. Almost. Christine Goode fills the enviable role of LiAnne the horse. She prances and flirts like Mae West. Watching her is a joy. Dave Beacham as the unlucky but happy-go-lucky Swan is the most likeable character in the play, and Ryan Holmberg is outrageous as the preacher Bell, who literally beats people over the head with the Book of Mormon.

It’s a fine ensemble performance carried by Doyle and Holmberg. In previous performances this past year — most notably in “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead” and “The Fifteen Minute Hamlet” — Doyle has proven himself to the a master of physical comedy, and he does it again in this play, most enjoyably in the never-ending fight scene with Holmberg.

Despite the title, this is not a true musical. It’s a comic play with a few songs thrown in. But what great songs they are, with hummable tunes like “Shpadoinkle Day and “Hang the Bastard.”

I do not envy Pug Bujeaud for having to shape up this huge cast and crew. When I saw it she still had some work to do, but based on previous directing jobs I’ve witnessed from her, I have no doubt the kinks (but not the kinkiness) shall have been worked out come opening night.

WHERE: The Eagle’s Lodge Underground, 805 4th Ave. E., Olympia
WHEN: 8p.m., April 14, 15, 16, 17, 21, 22, 23, 28, 29, 30; midnight showing April 23, 2:30 p.m. May 1
TICKETS: $15.00 at the door or at

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