Review: Hobo Junction’s “Horrible”

 

“Horrible” Haunted by Shoddy Script

 

Hobo Junction presents:

Horrible

by Josh Zagoren
directed by Breahan Eve Pautsch
thru December 19th (tickets: 773-935-6100)

Reviewed by Keith Ecker

Terrible-poster Either the criteria of what constitutes a dark comedy expanded and no one bothered to tell us, or Hobo Junction Productions is misinformed. The theater company’s recent aptly named piece Horrible is being touted as a macabre comedy, but really the scariest element of the production is the script (written by ensemble member Josh Zagoren), which has more holes in it than a victim of an icepick attack.

This isn’t to say the play lacks ghoulish elements. It features quaint depictions of cannibalism, ghostly hauntings and murder. But it lacks the two most critical elements of a dark comedy: cynicism and comedy. In fact, by the end of the play, you will feel as if you just watched an adaptation of a Hallmark card illustrated by Edward Gorey. Sure it might elicit a chuckle, but really it’s just trite, hokey material that scratches the shallowest surface of the human condition.

The play focuses on two families, the Garrishes and the Goodlys, both of whom begin with a dead parent and a dying parent. Malcolm Garrish (Mike Tepeli) is a workaholic doctor. His transvestite brother (Kaelan Strouse) is his assistant, and both are haunted by their father (Elliott Fredland) who is awaiting the death of the Garrish matriarch (Judi Schindler).

Meanwhile, on the other side of town—or the stage rather—lives Holly Goodly (Madeline Chilese), a poor young woman who does anything she can to support herself and her blind sister (Cyra K. Polizzi), even if that means feasting on human flesh to ward off starvation. The Goodly sisters are haunted by their mother (Tara Generalovich) who is awaiting the death of her drunkard husband (Bob Pries).

 

Horrible-Madeline-Chilese horrible-Mike-Tepeli

Soon into the play, the sickly elders from both families kick the bucket, and the lifelines of Malcolm and Holly collide at the town cemetery. Of course, they immediately fall for each other and a courtship begins. Meanwhile, their respective parents, having nothing better to do, pester them about their love lives from beyond the grave. As Malcolm and Holly carry on, the question of how she will hide her horrible secret looms.

There is also a narrator (Keith Redmond), onstage musical accompanists and news of a serial killer about town, a plot point that not only makes the production an overstuffed mess, but also derails the play into eye-rolling territory by the end.

Simply put, the biggest weakness of this play is its script. The story feels very much like a first draft and can benefit greatly from some additional table reads and multiple rewrites. For example, superfluous characters abound, such as Holly’s blind sister and Malcolm’s transvestite brother, who served no real purpose and received minimal characterization. (Blindness and transvestitism is about as deep as it gets.)

Characterization was also nonexistent for the protagonists. Malcolm and Holly’s love feels contrived and cliché, something we’ve seen countless times before in any teenage romantic comedy. There is also no effort to make either multi-dimensional. One’s a workaholic and one’s a cannibal, but there really isn’t a whole lot else to go on. The parental ghosts add a little comic fancy, but they could have been a riot if they weren’t written as North Shore cardboard cutouts.

Horrible-Mike-Tepeli-Madaline-Chilese The jokes are reminiscent of a bad Henny Youngman routine, with one-liners and puns comprising the majority of what is supposed to be the comedy. Whereas the dialogue could inform character or plot, it just sits there as a cheap laugh that stops the action of the play. There should have been more focus on building comedic situations, but then again that would have required creating well-rounded characters to create situations around.

There are some nice things to say about Horrible. For one, the musical accompaniment (composed by company member Dan Pearce), is entertaining and does more to set the tone than any part of the actual play. With only a guitar and a baritone sax, the two musicians create gritty tunes, evoking the spirit of Tom Waits. In addition, Strouse as the transvestite brother stole many scenes, not because he was donning a dress, but because his inflection and facial expressions breathed much life into an otherwise figuratively dead character.

At best, Horrible is a half-baked play that was prematurely produced before the writer could fix the script’s shortcomings. At its worst, it’s a frightening example of a directionless piece whose banality will haunt you.

Rating: ★½

 

Cast:

Bryan Campbell as Mr. Hunt
Madeline Chilese as Holly Goodly
Elliott Fredland as Humphrey Garrish
Tara Generalovich as Hildabrand Goodly
Christopher Rex Jacobs as Herman Manners
Cyra K. Polizzi as Meredith Goodly
Bob Pries as Tom Goodly
Keith Redmond as Gill
Judi Schindler as Claudia Garrish
Kaelan Strouse as Gordon Garrish
Mike Tepeli as Malcolm Garrish

Crew:

Playwright – Josh Zagoren
Director – Breahan Eve Pautsch
Producer – Luke Harmon
Stage Manager – Amy Hopkins
Set and Lighting Designer – Andrew Marchetti
Music Director – Dan Pearce
Properties Designer – Josh Zagoren
Costume Designer – Janna Weddle
Costume Construction – Ashely Bagot
Marketing Director: Christopher Rex Jacobs

8 Responses

  1. So if you’re pissy and gay you won’t like it. Got it.

  2. So you’re saying if a character is blind, there has to be a reason why she’s blind? She can’t just be blind? Why not? And a tranny has to have a reason to be a tranny? Isn’t that kind of a hypocritical thing to say? Naked Boys Singing? Aren’y you just naked and singing?

    • Naked Boys Singing is a musical revue. It is not a narrative play with a through-line story. The fact that the men in the production are naked and singing is merely a gimmick, serving no further purpose. This is fine because there is no story to serve.

      However, when writing an actual play, characterization will always trump gimmick. This characterization (such as blindness and transvestitism) serve to color the character and inform his or her motivations, relationships and worldview. If they do not, then they are merely gimmicks. Weaving characterization into a story to progress thematic ideas, relationships and plot is skillful writing. Assigning characteristics randomly is gimmicky and is evidence of a weak script.

  3. So by that rationale, everything in the Addams Family deserves an explanation and I’m speaking of the characters. I think by not explaining a character’s quirk you allow them to just be themselves and it makes the audience wonder why they need an explanation. I saw this show and I encourage others to do so because I think that’s the point of the whole thing.

  4. To clarify, when I say “explanation,” I do not mean within the context of the story. I don’t need to know how a character became blind. But there should be a purpose in the writer’s mind that should somehow reflect itself in the play.

  5. I don’t know what show you were watching, but my friends and I thought it was quite funny. It’s a comedy. Do you not what that is? The guy that plays the doctor was incredible and we found nothing wrong with the script as you suggest. It was not an overwrought, oversensitive comedy/drama. It was just plain fun. Maybe you should learn how to relax and have some.

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