Play: “The Abominable Dr. Phibes…in 3-D!”
Group: Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre
Venue: Regional Arts Commission Studio Theatre, 6128 Delmar Blvd.
Dates: May 20, 21 at 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. both nights
Story: It’s a strange and deadly time in London, circa 1925, for a cluster of physicians who are being knocked off, one by one. Their only apparent connection to each other is that they all assisted in an operation upon one Victoria Phibes four years earlier. She was the wife of Anton Phibes, a famous organist who held doctorates in both music and theology and who was reportedly killed in a car crash en route to the hospital for his wife’s surgery.
Intrepid Scotland Yard Inspector Trout suspects that the good doctors (and a nurse) are being murdered by Phibes himself, since the killings follow the biblical “Ten Plagues of Egypt,” with death by such grisly means as bats, rats, bees, frogs, locusts and generally unpleasant stuff. Cunning Dr. Phibes, if he’s alive that is, could be using his knowledge of the Bible to extract revenge. If so, his murders will culminate in the death of head surgeon Dr. Vesalius. When the latter’s son is kidnapped, Vesalius is given an opportunity by the abductor to save his son from hideous disfigurement by acid — if he can successfully perform surgery in record time. But can he?
Highlights: Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre celebrates the 2011 “Vincentennial” — the 100th anniversary of the birth of St. Louis native and legendary horror film star Vincent Price – with an original parody by MSMT artistic director Donna Northcott. Production notes point out that “’Phibes is presented in Monkeyvision, an amazing new innovation in 3-D technology which makes the actors appear as if they are actually in the theatre RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOUR VERY EYES!”
Indeed they are, acting remarkably like the cast of the old SCTV comedy series in such classics as “Dr. Tongue’s 3-D House of Pancakes.” Surely you remember. This particular MSMT zaniness pays tribute to Price’s 1971 campy cult classic with a merry band of marauders who do their best to capture that impish Monkey irreverence so dazzlingly displayed in “The Ten Commandments,” “Lord of the Rings Trilogy Live” and “Star Wars Trilogy Live,” among other adaptations.
Other Info: Tributes and good intentions notwithstanding, this latest addition to the Monkey ouvre is more often flat than funny, and the laughs that do emanate seem often strained and lonely. Although the house was full at the early Saturday performance last weekend, jokes too often were met with silence or polite laughter rather than the raucous roars familiar to Monkey madness.
Part of the problem may be the relative obscurity of the source material compared to “Star Wars” or “Lord of the Rings.” In any event, under Northcott’s attentive direction the players persevere and have their share of hits as well as misses. Ben Ritchie keeps a suitably stiff upper lip as the undaunted Inspector Trout, whose name proves problematic for colleagues and victims alike. Richard Lewis mines and mimes his title role as the silent scourge, Dr. Phibes, and is not above hamming it up playing the cardboard organ assembled by technical director Linda Lawson Mixon with scenic painter Cristie Johnson’s able assistance.
Jill Ritter comes and goes as Phibes’ mysteriously vampy and alluring assistant, Vulnavia. Casey Boland is properly deferential to Trout as his dutiful colleague, Detective Schenley, while Ruman Kazi is fitfully funny as Trout’s rapid-speaking superior, Waverly, with nary a word discernible but amusing nonetheless.
Luke Lindberg is humorous throughout as the redoubtable Dr. Vesalius, maintaining his composure regardless of various ridiculous circumstances. Lindberg shares the show’s best moment with Ritchie as they stylishly ‘dance’ through an exit in hilarious fashion. Scott McMaster, Jason Puff, Jaysen Cryer and Nicole Angeli add to the madcap mirth in myriad smaller roles, and Amy Kelly provides some most amusing cameos in, well, cameos.
Katie Donovan’s costumes range from flamboyant to funky, Seth Pyatt’s lighting highlights Lewis’ turns at the clunky keyboard, Jeff Roberts’ stylish sound design matches the mood on stage and C. Blaine Adams contributes all manner of silly props that are a Monkey trademark.
“The Abominable Dr. Phibes” has all the ingredients of Monkey’s inspired brand of lovable goofiness, but this is a case of the whole not matching the parts. Perhaps some last-minute surgery by the multi-talented Dr. Phibes would help patch a more uproarious tale together.
Rating: A 3 on a scale of 1-to-5.