REVIEW: Seven Snakes (The Mammals)

 

No Country for Young Women—or Anyone Else

 

Seven Snakes - The Mammals - Roy Gonzales as the Man

   
The Mammals present
  
Seven Snakes
   
Written and Directed by Bob Fisher
at
Zoo Studio, 4001 N. Ravenswood (map)
thru Nov 6  |  suggested donation: $20 – BYOB  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

This past spring, under Bob Fisher’s deliciously skewed playwriting and direction, The Mammals really brought the excessive testosterone with their retro boxing melodrama, The Meatlocker (our review ★★★). They do no less with their current ode to spaghetti Westerns, Seven Snakes, staged in the dungeon-like confines of the Zoo Studio. While every line and gesture expresses sensual longing for the heyday of Eastwood films, Fisher sagely places Seven Snakes a full 30 dystopian years into the future. This is a desperate futuristic Western, playing off of nostalgia for rugged Seven Snakes - The Mammals - dont-want-to-be-coldblooded individualism and the joys of Manifest Destiny. Meanwhile, it cites those American cultural qualities as the source of our current military misadventures in the Gulf and Afghanistan.

Our story begins “in the remains of what was once the Arizona desert.” Heaven only knows where the rest of the USA has gone, but only two women and six Octogenarian Veterans of Foreign Desert Wars survive to live out dry days and lonely, love-starved nights in Skillet County. When The Mother, played in drag by Don Hall, gives up the ghost and leaves The Daughter (Erin Elizabeth Orr) to fend for herself as the solitary nurse at the VA, the elderly vets turn increasingly, dangerously frisky. Their sexual tension turns to outrage and suspicion when a wounded stranger arrives—a drifter who could be either a sexy, lone gunslinger or a terrorist out to destroy what’s left of America. Mother’s ghost returns both to spur on her Daughter and to comment on the action. But for the most part, girl is on her own with these crazy mens.

The real comic heroes of this play are the vets, led by the leadenly appropriate but no less sex-starved or suspicious Colonel (Matt Kahler). The action and humor grow decidedly freakier with the old boys’ growing frustrations. The further their young nurse progresses in her intimate relations with the Man (Roy Gonzalez), the more the vets believe he is one of a mythical terrorist team, the Seven Snakes.

Like most new works, Fisher’s comedy could use a strategic editing, but the lead-up to the second act is well worth the wait. The play achieves the surreal state of 60s Westerns, parodying and doing homage to them at the same time. The priceless comic timing of the Colonel, Radar (Ian Brown), Sgt. Ringo (Adam Dodds), Corporal Cheese Grits (Vincent Lacey), Private Toadsuck (Shane Michael Murphy) and Mr. Hey (Sean Ewert) make lines like, “So, what about that drifter’s penis?” and “That is the art of camouflage, girly” ring hysterically and resonantly funny.

 

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Completing the show’s testosterone is the rest of the Seven Snakes and the American Psychic Surveillance Team. As for the Snakes’ Segundo (Riso Straley), Chupa Fuerte (Bert Matias), Cuchillo (Miguel Nunez) and Angel (Fernando S. Albiar), these are men who have been fighting so long, their culture and history are as mythically-based as their reputation. Their roles don’t carry the comic impact of the Desert Wars Vets–happily, Matias plays his role as a “dirty-old-snake” to the goofy hilt. The rest of the Snakes are mournfully hip and fiercely outlaw–not to mention desperately needy for human touch. But one wonders if a little political correctness has crept into their character development. As for Agent V (Jim Hicks) and Agent Fido (Warwick Johnson), much as I appreciate how they represent the USA, their torture scene goes a little too long for either comedy or political commentary.

Since Erin Orr is the only player with XX chromosomes, one can only salute her no-holds-barred approach to keeping octogenarian lechers at bay, while struggling to get the young guys to open up emotionally. The former keeps the action going at a hilarious tilt, even as things turn dicey. Be prepared for fun stage violence and bloody bandages. Sadly, her romance with the Man drags. Their last crucial scene together doesn’t ring true. There still isn’t enough chemistry between them to sell lines like, “I don’t want to be cold-blooded anymore.” Seven Snakes is a man’s comedy and has to be appreciated as such. Still, even the Marx Brothers knew the importance of producing romance between their romantic leads, film after film. Besides, the world of the Seven Snakes could use a little tenderness. It helps to make the laughs complete.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

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REVIEW: The Meatlocker (The Mammals Theatre)

Taking risks, The Mammals creates visually terrifying tableau

 meatlocker-marquee

 
The Mammals presents
 
The Meatlocker
 
written/directed by Bob Fisher
at
Zoo Studio, 4001 N. Ravenswood (map)
thru May 14th  | tickets: $20 suggested donation  more info

reviewed by Aggie Hewitt

The Meatlocker, the new play written and directed by The Mammals artistic director Bob Fisher is a dark and heady comedic drama set in the creepy world of 1930’s boxing. The play’s titular character, The Meatlocker (Dave Goss), is a boxer who can’t go down for the count. He’s haunted by a demon who warns him that if he stays on meatlocker 014 the floor of the ring until the ref counts to ten, he will never get up again. Tormented by demons and faced with the material world threat of tough guy bookies who want him to take a dive, Meat and his manager, Manny (David Lykins) are men without options. 

In the small black basement that is the Zoo Studio, an opaque shower curtain is all that separates the audience from the deep stage. The back wall is completely lined with news papers. As the first scene opens, Meat is lying on a workout bench, directly under a single yellow light bulb, the only source of illumination in the entire scene. Lovely little risks like this make The Meatlocker one of the most visually intriguing shows of the season. Bob Fisher lingers on visceral images; tableaus of a woman walking alone downs a dark alley; the cold looks in the crowd as a boxer enters the ring, to season the performance. The effects are haunting and engaging, and lend themselves to the overall cartoonishness of this imaginative production. Nothing about this play is subtle, from the staging to the acting to the characters, which like the tableaus they inhabit are painted with the broad strokes.

Stitch, the evil demon played by Adam Dodds (who also designed costumes) has the body of Richard III and the voice of a distorted Jimmy Stewart – which is literally amplified by bizarre and brilliant choice to dress him in a live headset microphone. 

The character of The Meatlocker is a terrified child in the body of a (literally) ice cold man. He is constantly in anguish, addled by the visions of a recurring phantom. The world he lives in, then, is a dark place filled with creatures of the night, human 0oddballs who tempt his sanity as much as the ghost does. Whether or not Stitch is real or not is irrelevant. The play is scary, and thought-provoking in it’s brutality.

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The Meatlocker drips testosterone. The one woman in the play, A.J. The Reporter (strongly played by Nicolle Van Dyke) is as tough, or tougher, than her male counterparts, to the point that she has a late night, dark alley conversation with tough guy Rudy the Rhino (the truly terrifying Gabe Garza), who initiates the conversation by jumping out of the shadows and threatening to rape her. There is not a motivation in the world that would keep a woman in that situation, and this choice may be the weakest moment in the show. The ultra-masculinity of The Meatlocker is what makes it great, but like its hero, it is also its greatest flaw.

 
Rating: ★★★
 
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The Meatlocker runs Friday & Saturday, 8pm, at Zoo Studio, 4001 N. Ravenswood.  BYOB!  $20 suggested donation.  Reservations can be made by calling 866-593-4614.

Cast:  Roy Gonzalez, Adam Dodds, Fred Mowery, Nicolle Van Dyke, Vinny Lacey, David Lykins, Gene Van Dyke, Gabe Garza