Monsters, demons and grief hover in the corners of the Goodman's gory new comedy.
Somewhere in the 1970s Midwest, teenage Chris (Northwestern student Olivia Cygan) is convinced her dad’s new fiancée Carol (Christina Hall) is evil. Like, paranormally evil. As in, though the exact word's never used, maybe a succubus. But then Chris hasn't been acting so normal herself since her mom's death. Has grief made her crazy, or does Carol hold a demonic thrall over her dad? Why not both?
Charise Castro Smith's new horror comedy takes its title from the unidentifiable creature Chris's dad, Arthur (Eric Slater), runs over in the driveway near the top of the 90-minute show. Arthur and Carol puzzle over the wounded beast, whose species and provenance are never revealed. Chris, who seems to have had all the empathy drained from her by the loss of her mother and the added insult of Carol—her mother’s hospice nurse, of all people—moving in before the body was cold, calmly picks up a butcher knife and bloodily puts it out of its misery.
Before long she’s swinging that same knife at her future stepmom, and Arthur’s rather understandably threatening to have her committed. But it turns out the creature left behind famished, carnivorous offspring (voiced, creepily and amusingly, by Carolyn Hoerdemann from a Foley/DJ booth above the stage), which Chris interprets as a mother’s gift from beyond the grave to finish Carol once and for all.
Clearly, there are a lot of elements at play here; perhaps too many. Both the study of grief and the monster tale are undermined by the broadness of the comedy elsewhere. A heavily accented, malaprop-spouting neighbor boy (Jordan Brodess) who gets wrapped up in Chris’s plot feels like a one-joke character. Arthur and Carol often play like amped-up caricatures of 1970s sitcom inhabitants, he the bumbling, square dad, she the bubbly, happy housewife.
Yet there are flashes of oddness, even menace, in Carol’s behavior, and she does seem to hold a strange thrall over Arthur. Are these hints of something inhuman? Is Chris both psychopathic and right? What’s up with the hungry little beasties? Castro Smith leaves you guessing right up to the end. For better or worse, she leaves you guessing beyond then as well.
Goodman Theatre. By Charise Castro Smith. Directed by Henry Godinez. With Olivia Cygan, Christina Hall, Eric Slater, Jordan Brodess, Carolyn Hoerdemann. Running time: 1hr 30mins; no intermission.