I Love My Dead Gay Son: The Musical!
With 'I Love My Dead Gay Son: The Musical!', the energy-to-burn Yellow Tape Construction Company turn this cult film 'Heathers' into a loud, amped-up send-up of everything Eighties
Reviewed by Robert Faires, Fri., June 30, 2006
I Love My Dead Gay Son: The Musical!
The Off Center, through July 1
Running Time: 1 hr, 50 min
Belts as wide as windshields. Big hair teased within an inch of its life. Jangly, overcaffeinated New Wave guitars. Rebels without a cause in pastel button-downs with the collars turned up. Gridiron jocks exhibiting serious homoerotic behavior. Death by exploding football. Death by sour milk. Suicide as the "in" thing to do. More expired adolescents than Izod has little green gators The Eighties are back with a vengeance! More specifically, Heathers, Michael Lehmann's 1989 cult film about a high school under the iron rule of three privileged princesses who share the same name, is back, adapted into a stage musical by the energy-to-burn Yellow Tape Construction Company.
The film's fans will recognize the story: Veronica is accepted into the Heathers ruling class but hates it; Veronica meets bad boy J.D., who helps her give the Heathers a taste of their own medicine; Heathers (among others) start dropping like flies; murders are masked with phony suicide notes; jittery, clueless parents and teachers suspect a suicide epidemic. But in the playing out of that story, authors/company members Amanda Butterfield, Tim Doyle, Jonathon Morgan, Breanna Stogner, and Juliane Taylor take the opportunity to celebrate (and denigrate) assorted cultural excesses of the Greed Decade, piling on commentary about Eighties fashion, Eighties adolescent angst (as depicted in movies and TV shows of the day), Eighties politics, and, of course, Eighties music. (The score by Doyle, Seth Truett, Eric Vormelker, Hollis Webb, and Nick Welp references just about every guitar thrash between the Ramones and Pearl Jam.) And it hurls it all at us with the speed of a DeLorean in overdrive. The cast of nearly two dozen races from scene to scene, from expansive dance-party musical number to expansive dance-party musical number, with a breathless energy that not only keeps the show roaring above the speed limit but infuses it with an amped-up attitude that turns what was already an outrageous black comedy into an absolutely over-the-top campfest. It's as if they're following Spinal Tap's lead and cranking it up to eleven.
To say that the show is a scream, however, is not merely to characterize it as a rowdy romp. It describes the way a surprising amount of the dialogue is delivered. The actors look hellbent on really working the melodrama in every single line, and they strain to ratchet up the already overwrought emotions to some new peak of presposterousness. Sometimes they pull it off, but even so the result is a lot of yelling. A lot of yelling. Which leads to some lines that we're meant to understand being rendered unintelligible. And keeping so much of the show pitched at that level can be hard on an audience beyond the assault on the ears; it can just plain wear one down.
Of course, what else should you expect from a show that, satirical or not, is fueled by the spirit of teen rebellion, especially as expressed in the roar of punk rock? In the heart of I Love My Dead Gay Son is a rage against the machine: against cliques, against those who seek power and those who abuse it, against prejudice, against hypocrisy, against everything that poisons society. Ultimately, one of the show's strengths is its willingness to lash out at the ingrained ills in our society, to denounce them and do it loudly. Maybe it's just in a campy musical in a warehouse theatre in the middle of Texas, but these days we can use every bit of dissent we can get.
The other major strength of this Yellow Tape production is its sheer unrestrained joy. Every person in that unusually large cast looks to be having the time of their lives, and the fun they're having spills out of the spotlights and into our seats. So that even when my ears felt like they were bleeding and when I felt like I wasn't in on the joke the show seems to presuppose an intimate familiarity with Heathers and numerous other touchstones of Eighties culture that I couldn't quite claim, leaving me to feel at times like a "virgin" at The Rocky Horror Picture Show I still found myself carried along on the buoyancy of the actors' enthusiasm, both in what they were doing individually and what they were seeing each other do. (It's pretty easy to see the actors offstage, and most would stand and watch their colleagues with faces lit up in obvious delight.) To borrow a metaphor from an era of teen movies that will surely date me: If you can catch the wave of exuberance coming from this unapologetically silly and ferocious send-up, you're in for one wild and memorable ride.