photo courtesy of John Armstrong

Play:        “Slasher”

Group:        HotCity Theatre

Venue:        Kranzberg Arts Center, Big Brothers Big Sisters Building, 501 North Grand

Dates:        December 9, 10, 11, 12, 16, 17, 18

Tickets:    $15-$25; contact 314-289-4063 or www.hotcitytheatre.org

Story:    Sheena is getting by.  She’s going to college while working as a waitress at a local bar and hopes to eventually make a career for herself.  She’s an upbeat sort, even though her dad abandoned Sheena, her younger sister Hildy and their raw-around-the-edges mother Frances years ago.  Since then, Sheena has basically supported the family, as Frances says that she suffers from “chronic fatigue,” and anyway she’s been cheated out of what’s rightfully hers by bad guys all along the way.  This has tempered Frances’ world view as an arch-feminist who won’t cotton the menfolk taking advantage of her or her daughters any longer.

    So, when Sheena is approached at the restaurant by a slick-talking movie type who says he wants her as the “last girl,” aka final victim, in his next indie horror flick, Mom greets the unexpected news with furious disapproval.  Since Sheena doesn’t see herself as victimized but rather a shrewd negotiator for her hefty salary to play the part, she defies Frances and proceeds with filming the movie.  But, to paraphrase what David Banner used to say prior to transforming into The Hulk, you wouldn’t like Frances when she’s mad.

Highlights:    Allison Moore’s two-act comedy premiered in 2009 at the Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville and has been a regular on the regional theater circuit since then.  HotCity’s St. Louis premiere is a fast-paced, rollicking good time that features over-the-top performances by Chopper Leifheit as the perpetually teenaged director and Lavonne Byers as the pill-popping, self-aggrieved mother that propel this goofy parody merrily along.

Other Info:    Director Chuck Harper obviously has a lot of fun, as does his cast, in crafting this fitfully funny work that manages to skewer feminism run amok as well as the violently graphic sub-strata of slasher flicks that lack the subtlety and invention of the classic horror genre and seem designed primarily to cater to sick voyeuristic tendencies on their way to box office lucre.

“Slasher,” though, succeeds because it doesn’t take itself seriously, even as its characters essentially remain true to their predictable types.  It’s a hoot to watch Byers steamroll across Lex Van Blomestein’s versatile set (which doubles both as the forlorn McKinney home and as a warehouse film site) on her moped, hair awry and makeup lost somewhere on the horizon.  Frances is desperate, deranged and demented and Byers brings it all bubbling to the surface with outrageous flair.

Leifheit is just as sleazy in his mannerisms as in his fevered thinking, whether attempting to seduce Sheena or conning filmmaker wannabe Jody Joshi (a deliciously dull James Cougar Canfield) into making his grand entrance into cinema.  He is a man on a mercenary mission, with ‘art’ as his weapon of choice.

Natasha Toro appealingly blends Sheena’s pragmatic approach to her shot at stardom with exasperation on the home front, especially engaging in her battles with Mum.  Marcy Wiegert is appealing as wide-eyed and weary younger sister Hildy, Colleen Caul has a fun turn as a devious moral crusader and Maggie Conroy humorously fills the bill as a number of vapid actresses waiting their turns as unknowing victims in their less-than-memorable roles.

Matthew Koch’s loud and raucous sound design blends snippets from John Carpenter’s “Halloween” with other appropriate chords, Kimberly Klearman’s lighting is at its best in the seedy warehouse scenes, Scott Breihan’s costumes fit the sundry characters tidily (down to Hildy’s mismatched socks) and Scott Rocca’s properties are chockfull of blood-spurting possibilities.

There’s nothing deep or seasonal about “Slasher,” just a frenzied, often hilarious look at ludicrous lives on screen and behind the messy scenes.

Rating:        A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.