Thomas Burns Scully
- OnStage New York Critic
It’s clear to anyone with even a vague handle on pop-culture that we are currently obsessed with superheroes. Pop-culture writers like Bob Chipman (alias: MovieBob) have written about their proliferation. Some have even gone so far as to suggest that they are the modern myths and legends, that they have supplanted religious figures as our moral touchstones. I quite enjoy this idea, but it’s not my place to debate it here. Needless to say that people playing dress-up and punching one another are big business these days. But why are we fascinated with these super-people in strange costumes? Is it just the power fantasy? Is it the tights as well? ‘The Astonishing Adventures of All American Girl & The Scarlet Skunk’ by Charles Battersby takes a comic peek into that mindset. It just closed at the Brick Theatre as part of the Trans Theatre Festival and it is a romantic comedy… in spandex.
‘Astonishing Adventures’ is presented in the guise of a 1950s superhero radio serial. An announcer (Matt LeClair) leads the audience through the action and introduces us to the characters. Our hero, All American Girl (Kirsten Lewis), works as a secretary for psychiatrist Dr. Frederic Worthington (Xander Kozak). She is bored of her mundane day-to-day life, and so decides to put her skills to use as a crimefighter. She quickly encounters The Scarlet Skunk (Charles Battersby) and his soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend Hyena (Isabella Church). The Scarlet Skunk is a man who dresses as a woman to gain a tactical advantage over his opponents and sprays them with tear gas. He and Hyena disagree on crime-fighting ethics and quickly break-up. All-American Girl and Scarlet are initially at odds, but gradually fall for each other and team up to clean up the streets of New York. They thwart various schmoes and schlubs (played by Tony Patron and David Littleton) and enjoy the dubious company of the sassy waitress at their local diner (Tabitha Vidaurri), but gradually come to realize that something more sinister is going on in the city. Hyena has turned evil, and her strange new business plan probably has something to do with the ominous ‘Dr. Mindshrinker’…
This show is a lot of fun. A superhero send-up that plays on tropes, but never relies on them for its humor. Much of the comedy is silly and vaudevillian, but in the best possible way, and played with enough savvy to keep it fresh. Charles Battersby is great fun as the Scarlet Skunk, playing his transvestite character deadpan and completely straight (pardon the pun). Kirsten Lewis’s All American Girl is similar, a largely straight-laced performance, at once staying true to the source material and acting as the straight woman to all the bizarre villainy going on around her. And the bizarre villainy is a great deal of fun. Isabella Church’s Hyena gets to tell old-fashioned shaggy-dog jokes. Xander Kozak, Tony Patron and David Littleton all revel in their ridiculousness, belting out maniacal laughs and one-liners as if nature itself intended them to do so. Tabitha Vidaurri’s waitress character serves as a fun, realistic counterpoint to all the high camp going on, and, by seemingly doing very little, gets some big laughs. Finally, Matt LeClair nails the vocal energy of an old-time radio announcer, and ties the whole thing together with his performance. Everything gels nicely.
If I have a few criticisms. I would say that the energy wasn’t consistent throughout. Given the nature of the material lines needed to fly quick and sharp, and though they often did, there were a few clear moments of lag time. Production wise, the show also felt very spartan. Battersby’s costume and prop design is flashy and evocative as all heck, but the sound design was almost nonexistent and could have been used to ease some of the dead air during scene transitions. After all, wasn’t over-the-top music and foley one of the defining traits of radio’s golden age? The rear projections used too, were somewhat limited. While a great idea, to have comic book frames shone on to the back wall, enhancing and, occasionally, explaining the action, they were a little too obviously Photoshopped PowerPoint slides. It never felt like they completely meshed with the actors’ performances. A bit of shame.
That said, none of this is distracting enough to take away from the inherent of fun of Battersby’s production. And I mustn’t forget to mentioned the heart that shines through in this piece too. While the show’s affection for superheroes is clear, it also takes time out of its day to be about something substantial. One of its main characters is a transvestite, and this is portrayed as an entirely empowering thing. It’s part of his superhero make-up (pardon the pun again) and allows him to get the drop on his enemies. But as part of the Trans Theatre Festival, this being Pride-Season, and, sadly, the show taking place so soon after the Orlando tragedy, the Skunk is quick to remind the audience: “Any day could be the day I get shot in the back of the head because someone doesn't like the way I'm dressed.” This little reality-check goes a long way. Then he adds: “But that doesn't stop me.” It’s a surprisingly moving moment in such a light and frothy comedy. If it’s ever playing again, you should give it a look.
‘The Astonishing Adventures of All American Girl & The Scarlet Skunk’ was produced at the Brick Theatre in Brooklyn as part of the Trans Theatre Festival. It was written and directed by Charles Battersby. For more information on the future of the project, see charlesbattersby.com. For more information about the festival, see bricktheater.com.
This review was written by Thomas Burns Scully, a New York based writer, actor and musician. His work has been lauded by TimeOut NY, the New York Times, BAFTA US, the Abbey Theatre Dublin and other smaller organizations too numerous to mention. His theatrical writing has been performed on three continents. He performs improv comedy professionally and plays lead guitar in two bands. He is generally considered to be the thrifty person’s Renaissance man.
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