Arts & Culture » Theater

Plan 9 Is A-1

Magic Smoking Monkey carves up Ed Wood.


Get out the graph paper and the slide rule — this gets complicated. From the 1950s through the '70s, Ed Wood Jr. made movies on a shoestring budget, and most of them were unintentionally terrible. His pièce de la crap was Plan 9 from Outer Space, a "science-fiction/horror thriller" about alien beings who intend to raise an army of the dead to conquer humanity so that we never learn the secret of Solaranite, a bomb that explodes all the sunlight in the universe, thereby killing everything in the universe. In Wood's mind, this is an anti-war movie with a humanistic message (with zombies!). It also incorporates the last footage of Bela Lugosi (all thirteen seconds of it), a friend of Wood who died before filming really commenced. Sadly, the delivery of Wood's message is tripped up by pacing that's alternately plodding and rapid-fire, spindled by gaping plot holes and then trampled by cruddy special effects. And then wrestler-turned-actor Tor Johnson, who delivers his lines through a thick Swedish accent and what sounds like a mouthful of marbles, tromps around on the whole thing until any semblance of a message is obliterated.

Now take all those weaknesses and put them in the clever hands of Magic Smoking Monkey Theatre. Plot holes, cheap sets and effects, terrible dialogue and horrible acting? Why, that's the MSMT's specialty! But can a film that is so bad it's laughable be presented as a play that's good? You know, "good and entertaining," and not just "horribly bad yet entertaining?"

Well, yes! See? Says so right here on the slide rule. Plan 9 from Outer Space: LIVE! rules.

Director Donna Northcott excises Wood's leaden scenes and dumpy pacing and goes for broke with a nonstop barrage. This helps trim the story down to a tight 45 minutes or so, leaving only the meatiest — comedically speaking — scenes for her cast to chew on.

And oh, how they chew! Ed Wood would be proud of the manic performances that litter the Regional Arts Commission's small stage.

Tonya Darabcsek delivers a devastatingly nasal performance as housewife Paula Trent. Flat both in tone and projection, she remains remarkably devoid of inflection scene after scene — it's a note-perfect homage to the film's Paula Trent.

As Officer Kelton, Joshua Cook stands on the edge of the stage and stares slack-jawed into the middle distance, oblivious to everything around him. Only when someone says his name does he snap out of his stupor with a glottal stop that gets a laugh from the audience every time. Kelten's boss, the Lieutenant (Adam Brummitt), waves around a revolver with reckless élan and cracks his lines like a hard-boiled gumshoe. Kimberly Mason, as the alien invader Tana, seemingly channels Sarah Jessica Parker's character from the Tim Burton biopic Ed Wood. When her coy sensuality erupted into her final (ridiculous) words — "We are on fire, Eros!" — there wasn't a dry eye in the house.

And what of Tor Johnson? Chris Jones gargles his lines magnificently. With blocks of wood affixed to his shoes to give him the necessary height, he's unintelligible, lumbering and ridiculous. It's an uncanny performance. Jones also gives a subtle (relatively speaking) performance as General Roberts, generating big laughs simply by fiddling with a cheap plastic rocket on his desk.

The sets are about right for an Ed Wood production, with cardboard tombstones, card tables and a repainted reel-to-reel tape recorder serving as a futuristic translation computer. In a very funny, very smart nod to Bela Lugosi's aborted performance, two actors play the role. John Wolbers plays the double (the real-life Mrs. Ed Wood's chiropractor) who covered his face with a cape and slouched through several scenes as a stand-in for the deceased star. Every time Wolbers appears as "Bela," Roger Erb pops up on the other side of the stage, performing a dramatic turn and cape sweep, over and over — just like Wood's brief loop of Bela Lugosi.

The only real issue with Plan 9 is one of context: If you haven't seen the original, will any of this be funny?

Most definitely. A man in the back row apologized to his date for "all the inside jokes" after the lights came up. "It'd been funnier if you'd seen the film," he told her.

"How?" she asked, and they both erupted in laughter.

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