STAGES Goes Out On a Culty, Snakey, Bloody Limb With Johnna Adams' 'Rattlers'

‘Thank You, That Was Interesting’
Stages goes out on a culty, snakey, bloody limb with Rattlers

 

The headline for this review is the sentence offered to the box-office lady by a man exiting the theater behind me—and it pretty much sums up the experience of Rattlers, STAGEStheatre’s premiere of Johnna Adams’ new play: Thank you (I think) for a very, very weird time.

Directed by David Campos, Adams’ second play of her trilogy begun by Angel Eaters is equal parts Quentin Tarantino and Stephen King; whether that’s good or bad depends upon your taste. The story (which does not require viewing of the first or last parts of the trilogy) revolves around the bludgeoned-to-death murder of a small-town girl, Kate Rivers, who has returned home with her husband and child to visit her parents and sister for Easter. The murder occurs before the play begins, and when we meet the characters, Kate is already dead and on display in the morgue. The mystery of who killed Kate and why—and what retribution will result—unfolds in three separate, rotating scenarios.

In the first, Kate’s sister, Ernelle, and her boyfriend, slithering reptile enthusiast Snake, kidnap town preacher Osley and try to blackmail him into using his supernatural powers to resurrect the dead in order to give Kate another shot at life. Osley puts up a wild fight, refusing to use this power, which has been dormant for 15 years, partly because he believes it comes from Satan and—the real downer—every time he uses it, he’ll sprout horns from his forehead and they’ll grow with each zap of otherworldly juju. Just go with me here.

In another part of town, Kate’s alcoholic husband, Everett (who had visions of Kate’s death before it occurred), is engaged in what turns out to be a perverted trip down memory lane with town undertaker Ted, who has had a mad crush on Kate since first grade. In a way-too-much-information moment, Ted tells Everett about that lifelong crush and of undressing Kate’s mutilated corpse for the embalming process—and sleeping next to her that night on the slab. Surprisingly, Everett doesn’t bash Ted’s brains in, or even groan—but the audience takes care of that last point.

In the third scenario (spoiler alert!), Kate’s mother has figured out that Ted killed her daughter and coerces his younger brother, Shane (who’s had a thing for Kate’s mom since puberty, which must be about two weeks ago by the looks of the actor portraying Shane), to the scene-of-the-crime railroad tracks. The mom has some very unsavory MILF-y sex with the lad at his request, then drugs him and leaves him on the crossties to be flattened by an oncoming locomotive. Ah, sweet revenge!

Among this freaky randomness, there are a few monologues about life and death—how God leaves the body behind for a while so that we can mourn; how when we die and go to heaven, we probably get wings and horns; and how childlike naiveté should never be shattered by religious dogma. Or something like that. These bits, while perhaps intended to be the play’s heart, just aren’t revelatory enough to stand out much. More interesting is the actual unfolding of the mystery and the gory ending—which you’ll figure out about 10 minutes before it happens, but will still be entertained by nonetheless. It’s all a bit like a straight-to-video schlock-fest, tonally uneven (do we laugh or gasp? More overacting, please!) and void of any potent message. But hey, it beats the hell out of Children of the Corn.

 

Rattlers at StagesTheatre, 400 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton, (714) 525-4484; www.stagesoc.org. Sat., 5:30 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. Through Nov. 30. $12.

 
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