WAR review: ‘The Underneath’ at Annex Theatre
I need to fess up right now. I slept on Kittens in a Cage last year. It would seem it was widely loved. Playwright Kelleen Conway Blachard is back at Annex Theatre, this time with Pamala Mijatov directing. Kittens director Bret Fetzer turned his full attention to truly elaborate set designs this time around, along with Susannah Anderson. This is the last show of the season for Annex, and they’re pulling out all the stops.
Something monstrous is bubbling up at the new waterpark. Something icky is making Tina, misunderstood girl genius, uneasy—her little sister Winnie has a piece of tentacle in a jar that hisses, her mom Denise is taking too many pills, and the local Sheriff can’t bake enough crumb cakes to make himself feel better about the body parts washing up on the shore. And just what does the fry cook at Salty’s Sea Palace have in his pants? Welcome to the world of The Underneath, the latest play from the writer of Kittens in a Cage and Hearts Are Monsters. Featuring Daniel Christensen, Meaghan Halverson, Tracy Leigh, John McKenna, Pilar O’Connell, Mandy Price, and James Weidman.
The set design for the Underneath is a series of miracles in utility and art. Annex doesn’t have elaborate rigging, or trap doors, but there was still lots of sleight of hand. Going into fringe theaters it’s usually the case that actors sell it with a few props and lots of moxie. The Underneath has puppets, sliding walls, smoke, loud noises, and tentacles tentacles tentacles.
It’s a send up of pulpy sea horror. There is sex and death-by-monster right away (as there should be). The town has a new water park being developed on sacred ground, body parts are a-bubblin’ up. The tone is akin to a John Carpenter film. Its fervent belief in itself overcomes any and all intrinsic silliness. They are funny a lot on purpose though.
Standout comedic performances include John McKenna as Blackwater.
Mixed with this:
Mandy Price as Kimmi Timms–GOOD GOD! She has a manic Carol Burnett quality. You want to follow her strident can-do attitude to hell. Blanchard’s swear word constructions (eg dick shit) fly out of the show’s star, Tina Smelter (Pilar O’Connell), whose pluck will finally (maybe?) win out while the townspeople one by one become fish food.
The camp and silliness is matched by the creepy underpinnings. The physicality displayed by actress Meaghan Mary Halverson, for instance, is chillingly poetic. There’s a joy in seeing dancers go creepy. I love it. That visceral performance combined with Jana Hutchison’s makeup design really sells it. This horror/comedy doesn’t skimp on the horror.
The Underneath runs through November 16th. Go.