Presented by Arts After Hours
Written by Trey Parker of South Park
Directed by Corey Jackson
Music Direction by Mario Cruz
Choreography by Nicole Spirito
October 17, 18, 23, 24, 25, 29. 30 31, and November 1st at 8PM.
October 19, 26 at 3PM
LynnArts Rantoul Black Box
25 Exchange Street
Arts After Hours on Facebook
(Lynn, MA) When college academics look back at the body of work of Trey Parker, co-creator of South Park, I can only assume they will look at his early script for Cannibal – The Musical as a sign of his future potential. The script, which was a senior project while Parker was at the University of Colorado – Boulder, reads much like one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays”, with moments of brilliance, some car-crash-worthy attempts at brilliance, and a lot of head-scratching mediocrity. It presents a comedic challenge to any who attempt it. Arts After Hours embraces this challenge with enthusiasm, and hits many of the high-notes of comedy teed up by Parker, but misses a few others.
The plot is loosely based on the bizarre story of Alfred Packer, the only survivor of a group of settlers heading to Colorado. Packer’s companions were found partially eaten, and he was convicted of cannibalism. It’s a simple canvas of a plot for which Parker attempts to construct surreal comedic moments and biting social commentary.
It’s hard to tell how well he might have initially succeeded when the film version of this script first came out in 1993, as some of the material is thoroughly dated. For instance, Parker decides to go heavy on 80’s motifs, employing a prosecuting attorney that sounds like he’s from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Also, our hero almost succeeds in his tribulations thanks to the new wisdom he finds from a Karate Kid-like teacher. These jokes now offer more nostalgia than comedy. Also, cannibalism is just not as much a go-to punchline for comedy as before, when the subject matter was more shocking. The same jokes that led to laughs now fall flat in the Walking Dead era.
The Arts After Hours production is a gleeful gore-fest, with some very entertaining special effects that require a poncho in the front row “splatter zone”, and the actors do their best to go full-tilt for the comedy, even when they know some of the jokes and scenes don’t work. Their enthusiasm sometimes backfires, as their characters, who are manically happy at the beginning of the play don’t change much once they become just maniacal at the end. Also, too much action is focused at the very front of the stage, leaving for partial views and missed jokes for those seated in the back.
While almost all of this production is at least somewhat entertaining, there are some wonderful moments when the cast reveals Parker’s future promise as a comedy writer. Chief among these is his decision to go beyond stereotype in portraying an Indian tribe, making their depiction a mash-up of cultural misconceptions, with the tribe simultaneously showing signs of being from India, being Japanese, and being the Village People. Also, there is a wonderful piece of subtle humor in a scene, beautifully staged by choreographer Nicole Spirito of Parker, that riffs on a modern dance action dream sequence from Oklahoma. The object of affection in this dance showdown is a horse instead of a woman. These subtle pieces of comedy made even the lamest of jokes in this script worth it.