I stared down at the plate of brains in front of me: red and pink, with swirly curly-que bits. There was no doubt about it: brains.
“How do you like your pasta?” the waitress asked brightly. Ah. Right. Pasta with red beet sauce—that’s what this was. But, man, the visual had me confused.
The mistake was forgivable. I just watched a zombie (Kaitlin Baden) try to suck some poor guy’s brains out of his ear through a bendy straw. It was just another night at TheatreNOW where Halloween is all month long, thanks to their latest dinner show, “A Zombie, a Vampire, and a Werewolf Walk Into a Bar…” It’s the original creation of Calie Voorhis, who penned one of the three shorts for TheatreNOW’s Halloween festival last year.
The show is rather a lovely concept: Three powerful ladies of the night—a vampire (Susan Auten), a werewolf (Linda Markas), and the aforementioned Baden as a zombie—are blowing off steam, post-bachelorette party, at everyone’s favorite bar, Lula’s. It’s the set up of a joke, and it is incredibly apropos. Bryan Jacobs (co-owner of Lula’s) describes the watering hole as a little, old basement bar celebrating Halloween (his favorite holiday) all year long. Voorhis has of course written Jacobs into the story as Bernie the Bartender, played by Reid Clark, who leads the ubiquitous pub trivia night.
Like most shows at TheatreNOW, there are three segments to facilitate the serving of a meal. This one utilizes three rounds of pub trivia—all horror-film themed. In addition, during each segment, a different, powerful lady gets an opportunity to tell her story. Baden’s rendition of becoming zombified through a high-pressure dating situation in high school is actually quite adorable in a very funny way. It’s followed with a marvelous song-and-dance routine about brains. Auten and Markas as backup singers are just too wonderful not to watch. They might be the most self-conscious yet determined backup dancers ever.
In round two of both trivia and the show, we get the backstory and inner life of a struggling vampire (Auten). She just wanted to be popular; now, she’s immortal and friendless. It’s a tough break. But the real treat is getting to hear Auten sing! I knew Baden had a great voice but I don’t think I’ve ever heard Susan Auten sing onstage. She has a lovely, haunting way with a song that will stick with audiences long after they leave. It offers a calm, reflective moment in the middle to recover from the excitement of zombification and prepare audiences for the wild antics of the werewolf.
By round two of trivia, I had given up playing. I almost have no knowledge of horror films, let alone the oeuvre of Wes Craven. It made me wish I brought along Jock, whose arcane knowledge of all things cinematic never ceases to amaze me. But that is sort of emblematic of the evening: Just like playing pub trivia is really about having fun with your team, and going out to Lula’s is about enjoying your friends, this is an evening that is better enjoyed with a group than by yourself.
But, make no mistake, it is Linda Markas whose werewolf knows no bounds that sends the audience over the edge. Her half wolf-like creature has no qualms about scatological humor, primal and sexual aspirations, and the howling expression of those needs. Her act three solo is, uh, unforgettable … and startling.
Cole Marquis’ original score for the show is a wonderful treat, too. But speaking of treats: dessert was a mouth-watering pumpkin cream-cheese filling to a jelly roll cake, drizzled with butterscotch-chocolate sauce.
Perhaps one of the aspects of this show I enjoyed most was Beth Swindell’s choreography. As the director, she brought a strong musical theatre eye to it. The spontaneous nod to “Rocky Horror,” complete with Baden’s squealing and the three ladies dancing the “Time Warp” is a true high point.
So, it’s obvious how Reid Clark has his hands full, trying to hold his own onstage with these ladies. As the master of trivia with the microphone, he does manage to wrench a few zingers into the exchanges before someone tries to take a bite out of him.
Voorhis has a lovely sense of humor with a vampire who carries her fangs in her purse and a zombie who can’t keep up chasing down a guy because of her limp. For the fun in the script, Voorhis clearly loves the horror genre. Between the trivia and script, the whole evening comprises quite an homage to fright nights.
More than that, it is a love letter to the denizens of Lula’s—the people Voorhis loves best, the old guard of Wilmington’s theatre world. It’s where local thespians are known to hang out frequently, so there are lots of inside jokes for theatre people, including utilikilts, the elevator at City Stage, and of course the ubiquitous situation of tech and their gripes. That everyone onstage and in the production at TheatreNOW are intimately familiar with Lula’s served to create the space onstage pretty accurately, including the outside smoking benches and the Halloween lights behind the sticker-covered bar. The only thing missing was a low ceiling and some license plates. If anything, the spacious feel of TheatreNOW was a bit startling while watching Wilmignton’s most famous basement bar known for little to no elbow room come to life.
The production is less a standard play and more an experience: food, spirits, laughter and good fellowship. It makes for a truly wonderful, ridiculous and delightful evening out. Make sure to come with a table of friends to share this tricky treat.