By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
If the comedy High School Hellcats in Heels were ice cream, it would be cherry bubble gum with licorice chips. If it were a sweater, it would be fuzzy pink angora over a pointy D-cup. And if it really were a B-movie from the 1950s, it would star Mamie Van Doren, Russ Tamblyn and Terry Moore.
Now cracking up the popcorn-crazed crowds at the Pocket Sandwich Theatre, High School Hellcatsis bubbly comedy shot through with dark jabs at midcentury good-girl-gone-bad movies. With heavy scoops of the same twisted wickedness of John Waters' Crybaby and Hairspray, the script by Dallas writer Andi Allen offers an intelligent, deliciously bitter take on the hypocritical moral codes of the Beaver Cleaver era. But describing it that way makes this three-act show sound almost too highfalutin. Hellcats is definitely lowfalutin. But its cartoony comedy is never dumb. And while it's acted with about as much subtlety as an A-bomb test, it's never badly acted. Director Lisa Cotie has put together an attractive, funny cast of nine actors who really get into their kooky roles and keep the comedy popping.
What a nice surprise to see good, well-rehearsed, if very big, comedic acting happening on the stage at the Pocket, a venue that typically casts its spoofs and melodramas on the simple criterion of who'll work for gas money. If only the Pocket offered more plays as bright and original as Hellcats instead of setting its entertainment sights so low it's become the Chuck E. Cheese's for grown-ups. All that free popcorn flying around actually keeps High School Hellcats from getting more of the laughs it deserves.
Hellcats is so much better than the hacky twaddle the Pocket usually produces, it takes the audience--some of whom behave as if they just wandered over from a tractor pull--most of the first act to start to appreciate what's going on. Allen's script teems with references not just to bad B-movies such as High School Confidential, but to glossy Hollywood flicks like Bye, Bye Birdie and Picnic that were quaint even by '50s standards. Characters toss off pop-culture quickies about Lumpy Rutherford, Dobie Gillis, Hazel, Ed Wood and the Big Bopper. Maybe the actors are too young to get all the jokes without footnotes, but we boomers dig 'em the most.
High School Hellcatsunreels the downfall of a trio of teen hellions in 1957. Like the tough-talking babes in Waters' movies, slutty girl-gang members Madge (Trista Wyly, snarling like Ann Blyth in Mildred Pierce) and Arleen (Jennifer Seiley) dangle Viceroys from their glossy lips and spike their Cokes with hooch. They teeter around on black patent, six-inch spank-me pumps and say things like, "I'm young and wild and wearing heels!"
Into the Hellcats' gang comes willing victim Millie Martin (Jocelyn Everett), a pretty but lonely kitten in a pleated skirt whose parents (Marci Fernier, Greg Pugh) withhold love but heap on material gifts. "There are starving children in China who don't have convertibles," says the Donna Reed-y mom when Millie complains of feeling neglected.
The Hellcats, see, need Millie's new wheels as the getaway car for their string of gas station robberies and muggings. These chicks are trouble with ponytails. Before long, they'll have Millie whacking a Fuller Brush man with a hog-bristle hairbrush and stripping another teen queen of her new sweater just for the thrill of it. And, as Madge likes to say, "It's the thrill that'll kill ya, kid!" (Madge pops every line as if it's punctuated with an exclamation point.)
Will Millie stay bad and end up in the Van Doren Girls' Reformatory? Or will she return safely to dullsville and her Richie Cunningham boyfriend (Matthew Sikes)? Does a Hellcat really have nine lives?
Think of High School Hellcats in Heels as the Gidget movie B-movie titan Roger Corman might have made, the one where Gidget gets drunk and knocked up by a greaser. John Waters would be so proud.
"I appreciate the fact that God had balls...God was a bad mamma-jamma," says Kane, who characterizes the relationship between Jesus and God as "good cop/bad cop." Gordon, the mumbly brand of nerd Matthew Broderick specializes in playing, is unnerved by Kane's forced debate about free will vs. determinism. Gordon just wants to get to Atlantic City to visit his mother.
There are dibs and dabs of good writing in Mysterious Ways, but not enough to amount to much. Young playwrights tend to escalate confrontations between characters much too quickly in their scripts, and that's exactly what Walters does here. Kane zooms from friendly stranger to screaming monster in a matter of seconds. Director Nick Orand might have allowed actor Martindale to offset the awkward pacing of the writing by scaling back his acting intensity from the shrieking 11 to a more quietly menacing four.
David Mamet's creepy, funny Bobby Gould in Hell is the more satisfying second half of the double bill, directed by Tom Parr and starring Martindale in the title role. The philandering Gould (a recurring character in Mamet's work) stumbles through the portal to everlasting damnation, where he's met by a pale, jittery receptionist (Lyle again) and the "Interrogator," none other than the horn-wearing devil himself (John Forkner).
Refusing to admit he was a "bad man," Gould begs for redemption, only to be presented with evidence of his sins in the body of Glenna (Michele Kline), the medical assistant he was shtupping just before his sudden demise. Turning the tables on Satan, Glenna takes over the interrogation, and her nagging outdoes the Evil One for torture tactics. Eventually, Gould gives the devil his due and Glenna an apology.
Hell for any man, according to Mamet, is having to tell a woman she's right in an argument.