Whimsy and Existential Dread in Swampland: “Alligator-a-Phobia in 3D!”

Katherine Perry (foreground), Maurie Moore, Savannah Scott, Ernesto Garrido Gonzalez; Photo by Stratton McCrady.

Presented by Boston Playwrights’ Theatre
A BU New Play Initiative production, produced by Boston Playwrights’ Theatre and the Boston University College of Fine Arts School of Theatre
Directed by Shamus
Written and Music Composed by Jay Eddy
Set Design by Ami Okazaki

Boston Playwrights’ Theatre
949 Commonwealth Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
April 6-16, 2023
Thurs. 7:30 p.m., Fri. and Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m.
To purchase, visit www.BostonPlaywrights.org
Boston Playwright’ Theatre on Facebook

Critique by Gillian Daniels

(Boston, MA) A heart trembling with anxiety beats inside the slimy gullet of the workshop production of Alligator-a-Phobia in 3D!, a quirky, genre-jumping play with high energy musical interludes. In this dramedy, a naive, young couple moves to alligator-infested southern Florida swampland. Nature photojournalist Sweetness (the charming Katherine Perry) makes the change with enthusiasm. Happy (Leah Kreitz in a powerful performance), a poet who’s recently completed an MFA, slowly becomes frozen in fear by their predatory neighbors (the frenetic alligator ensemble of Kendall McShane, Maurie Moore, Ernesto Garrido Gonzalez, and Savannah Scott).

The house that delights and then traps Happy is a colorful set with many doors from Scenic Designer Ami Okazaki. It has the feel of a variety show, a mash-up of reruns of Scooby-Doo (also evoked by McShane’s laugh as the predator) and The Muppets. The cast are game to match that vibrant, homey energy even as the plot and charm grow thin. 

In the tradition of folk horror, Happy’s arc is about learning to fear and love the new land of which the couple is now a part. The tone switches from joy to offbeat B-movie idiosyncrasy and then to claustrophobic terror, which is a lot to balance. Kreitz shows impressive range through the story’s ebbs and flows, both as an enamored traveler to the Everglades and then as a fearful neurotic person with a scaly obsession.

Happy’s arc grows repetitive and stalls as she remains inside the house, terrified that venturing outdoors will bring her face to narrow face with the creatures she fears. This reflects the truth of anxiety, one’s thoughts drifting in a circle around a drain, a whirlpool that won’t allow escape. Unfortunately, just focusing on that fear makes for a fairly narrow story. A subplot would have helped the 90-minute play feel more complete. 

Leah Kreitz and Sam Plattus; Photo by Stratton McCrady.

Teeny (Sam Plattus), Happy’s wholesome neighbor and Home Economics teacher at a local maximum-security prison, seems like an excellent opportunity to expand the scope of the story past the barricaded front door. Teeny also seems to be our entry into the broader, layered swampland community, sidestepping easy caricatures of “rednecks” for a more nuanced character. Plattus also plays one of Happy’s therapists, Doctor Croc, along with self-assured Zach Fontanez as Doctor Shrinker, who are far broader and more cartoonish.

The story crams in ‘gator facts, ‘gator meal preparation, and ‘gator-centered dream ballets. Happy’s relationship with Sweetness falls by the wayside as we, too, are sucked into her obsession.  

The look of the show is quirky and memorable. Costume Designer Michael O’Herron outfits the ‘gator ensemble in green mesh and glitter while Lighting Designer Slick Jorgensen treats us to green and red dreamscapes. 

The sound in the small theater didn’t quite work for me. It was hard to make out the lyrics to several of the lovingly-crafted, bayou flavored songs from Jay Eddy.

This show wears its pandemic-play influences proudly. Happy’s fear of a known, dangerous entity (‘gators instead of disease) is reasonable but one that keeps her in stasis. Eventually, through strange, uneven tone shifts, Happy’s journey proves to be life affirming even as it gazes toward the dark, bloody possibility of ending up in an alligator’s maw.

Update 4/16/23: this article didn’t specify that this production of “Alligator-a-Phobia in 3D!” was a workshop. This article is updated to reflect the workshop production.

Update 2: a phobic word was used unintentionally in the article. We humbly apologize to anyone we may have harmed with our ignorance. We are learning to be better.

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