Alyse Alan Louis in Teeth
Photograph: Courtesy Chelcie ParryTeeth
  • Theater, Musicals
  • Recommended



4 out of 5 stars

Vagina dentata! What a wonderful phrase! Vagina dentata ain't no passing craze!


Time Out says

Theater review by Adam Feldman 

“I’ve got some really crazy stuff going on downstairs,” says Dawn (Alyse Alan Louis), a devout Christian teenager, in advance of her first gynecological exam. As her overly handsy doctor soon learns, that’s putting it mildly. Against all medical probability, this toothsome girl suffers—or is it benefits?—from the mythical condition known as vagina dentata. Her lady plumbing has a little something extra: a garbage disposal that cuts off the junk of any guy who tries to force his way in.

Welcome, if you dare, to the savage world of Anna K. Jacobs and Michael R. Jackson’s Teeth, a dark and sharp new musical comedy adapted from Mitchell Lichtenstein’s cult 2007 fright flick. In the sparsely populated territory of horror-themed musicals, this one has clear antecedents in the Eve-was-weak religious shame and apocalyptic body horror of Carrie and the fabular, edge-of-camp knowingness of Little Shop of Horrors. But it is gorier—and much, much raunchier—than either of those two shows, and more overtly mythopoeic; by the end, it is tapping the wild feminine destructive power of Euripides’s The Bacchae. 

Directed unflinchingly by Sarah Benson, Teeth starts small and builds slow. Dawn begins as the stridently chaste leader of the Promise Keeper Girls, a youth wing of the fundamentalist church run by her driven and abusive stepfather, Pastor (Steven Pasquale). Her sweet jock boyfriend, Tobey (Jason Gotay), seems fine with waiting until they are married to consummate their love; they sing about it in a funny duet called ”Modest is Hottest.” But despite her convictions—that “a precious gift is not like sushi à la carte” and “a woman’s hole leads straight to Hell”—she is rocked by unfamiliar feelings of arousal. 

Teeth | Photograph: Courtesy Chelcie Parry

It’s only a matter of time before Dawn breaks. Her special power finally manifests about halfway through the show, much to her alarm—but also to her defense, since it shields her from sexual invasion. Her body is secretly weaponized against predators, who turn out to be everywhere. But the vagina dentata trope is not only about protection; it may also represent a psychological extension of men’s anxiety about emasculation, a literalization of their panic about powerful women. (Witch! Witch! The ding-dong’s dead!) 

Jacobs and Jackson embrace this idea with a vengeance. As severed-tongue-in-cheek as Teeth may be, it takes sexual violence and retribution seriously. Jacobs and Jackson’s version of Dawn incarnates a goddess called Dentata, risen from the cthonic depths of ancient legend to reboot her crusade to dismember every man. As our antiheroine moves farther down this path, the production ramps up to a climax of fire and rain, and Alan matches it with her performance. No stranger to strong women—she was Hillary Clinton in 2019’s Soft Power—she moves from trembling worry to trembling fury with fearsome abandon, backed by a female chorus of six that ably mirrors her transformation.

In less confident hands, Teeth might have been a one-note exercise in violent misandrist fantasy. But Jacobs’s music and Jackson’s lyrics give the story range. It’s not just that the songs are consistently varied and clever, with different voices for each character. (Pasquale’s Tin Pan Alley ditty as the gynecologist—this show’s version of Little Shop’s “Dentist!”—is one of several standouts.) It’s also that the authors, in expanding and modernizing Lichtenstein's movie, take time to dissect the ways in which men are also victimized by patriarchy: Dawn’s confidant Ryan (Jared Loftin, nailing it) is desperate not to be gay; her stepbrother and possible nemesis, Brad (Will Connolly), is buffeted between Father God, the deity of his dad’s religion, and the Godfather, an Aussie virtual-reality life coach who condemns “the feminocracy.” Even as it exalts the power of women, Teeth slices into manhood down to the root. 

Teeth. Playwrights Horizons (Off Broadway). Book by Anna K. Jacobs and Michael R. Jackson. Music by Jacobs. Lyrics by Jackson. Directed by Sarah Benson. With Alyse Alan Louis, Will Connolly, Steven Pasquale, Jared Loftin, Jason Gotay. Running time: 1hr 50mins. No intermission. 

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Teeth | Photograph: Courtesy Chelcie Parry


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