By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
In those old mummy movies from the 1930s, nobody could outrun the corpse. The angry and very dead 3,000-year-old pharaoh in The Mummy and its dozens of sequels and remakes traveled with a step-drag, step-drag cadence that couldn't outpace a three-legged sloth, but somehow the creature always caught up with his prey and throttled the life out of them.
The title character in Pocket Sandwich Theatre's Curse of the Mummyis more agile and a lot funnier than Karloff's cinematic take. As portrayed by Jeffrey Mena, this ancient corpse doesn't always strangle his victims; he sometimes boogies with them to Steve Martin's "King Tut" tune and the Bangles' "Walk Like an Egyptian." He's a mummy with moves.
Playwright Rodney Dobbs specializes in goofy, over-the-top melodramatic retellings of well-known legends, so no wonder this mummy isn't too tightly wrapped. Good thing, too, because he's surrounded by other characters who have only loose connections to their historic counterparts.
Through three acts, the 10 actors in Curse of the Mummy do their damnedest to stick to Dobbs' lines and somehow get the audience to follow a plot that only slightly parallels the story of real-life Egyptologists Lord Carnarvon and Sir Howard Carter and their famed unearthing of the tomb of King Tut. But this being the Pocket Sandwich Theatre, where the crowd is encouraged to toss popcorn at the villains and ooooh and awwww at the heroes, deviations from historical fact and the script itself are frequent, and, most of the time, the improvised dialogue provides the biggest laughs.
"Help! You must help me! Help me get out of this scene!" begs the Carnarvon character (played by Dan Dickerson).
Sometimes the "ad-libs" are written in.
"I'll just read this hieroglyphic out loud because I'm sure nothing bad can come of that," proclaims Carter (played drolly by R. Bradford Smith). And then, in an aside to the audience: "That's foreshadowing."
Indeed it is. Because by invoking the ancient curse from the tomb of dead pharaoh Abul Ra, Carter summons the mummified corpse back to life to search for his beloved, an Egyptian princess who bears a striking resemblance to the lovely Lady Evelyn Carter (Nancy Wood), Sir Howard's daughter.
Much raucous merriment ensues, of course, as all the characters try to stay out of the way of the wandering mummy. Among them: a mad nun named Mother McDougal (Shalitras Flowers), who runs an asylum in the British countryside; a greedy Egyptian something-or-other named Mohammed Ali Bey (Kenneth Sparks), who wears a fez and wants his mummy back; a pub wench named Bess Churchill (Rhonda Hutchison) and her ale-swilling boyfriend Bradley (Jon Paul Burkhart).
There's also a cowgirl named Rosalind (Kirsten Stiff-Busenhart), who's dressed in Wild West gear for no reason whatsoever. Besides giddily yapping about all the Egyptian stuff within the play, Rosalind serves as a kind of hostess beforehand, greeting the audience and leading them in singalongs to wish happy birthdays and anniversaries to various attendees. It's this component that gives Pocket Sandwich Theatre its neighborhood ambience as a kind of Chuck E. Cheese for grown-ups. Instead of a big talking mouse, this place has a cowgirl with a grin as wide as the Panhandle.
Playwright Dobbs succeeds at making his Curse of the Mummy script play on several levels--the obvious sight gags and awful puns are for the kids, and some clever movie references pop up for the elders. "Damn you, mummy, I'm not one of your fans!" shrieks Sir Howard in an homage to another of Hollywood's scariest monsters, Joan "Mommy Dearest" Crawford. Another character dies at the mummy's hands uttering one word: "Rosebud."
The play also attempts some not-always-successful topical material about airport security, the scandals in the Catholic church and the persistence of Jehovah's Witnesses.
Like the old movies, Curse of the Mummyincludes a flashback sequence to explain why the unearthed mummy's so upset. This scene takes place upstage behind a scrim, where a balky smoke machine coughs out anemic puffs of "fog." The flimsiness of the tiny set only adds to the silly nature of the whole production. Dobbs also designed it, and a careful look at his painted-on glyphs yields some extra chuckles.
By the end, the audience and the cast are exhausted from their efforts, and the poor Pocket Sandwich waitstaff looks ready for entombment themselves. As in all melodramas, this one concludes with true love winning out over evil. The villain meets his violent end. And the mummy, poor fellow, returns to the afterlife as shredded as a box of Enron files. It's all good fun, this rags-to-wretches undertaking.