Friday, May 1, 2015


The Big, The Trouble, and The Little China (2015) d. Meagan Piccochi (USA)

(NOTE: I know I don't usually review stage productions here, and especially since this isn't even technically a horror play, you might be asking, "What the What, AC?" Answer: Just chill, kids. A little cultchah ain't gonna hurtcha. Much.)

Already in prime John Carpenter mode from three, count 'em, three viewings of Escape from New York whilst burning through Shout! Factory's new two-disc Collector's Edition Blu-ray last week, I was delighted when a fellow Windy City thespian reached out to let me know that New Millennium Theatre (purveyors of such manic masterpieces as Hack/Slash: Stagefright, The Texas Chainsaw Musical, Manos: Rock Opera of Fate, and Boomstick) was ready to unleash their latest mash-up of cult classics.

In case you hadn't put it together from the title, director and adapter Meagan Piccochi's conceit is to transplant Carpenter's 1986 romp, Big Trouble in Little China, into a spaghetti western setting while keeping all the characters' names and situations intact, complete with bizarre ancient Chinese curses, thwarted romances, fisticuffs aplenty, and a blustery hotshot lone wolf hero named Jack Burton (Tim C. Moan).

The good news? It all works surprisingly well, and the rustic milieu perfectly suits the minimalism required by the Royal George Theatre's tiny 3rd floor space. A set of swinging saloon doors, couple chairs, one standalone door frame, and a wooden steamer trunk (which doubles and triples as a table, horse trough, and pulpit) is all that is required for viewers' imaginations to envision themselves within multiple dusty locales, and it's a credit to Piccochi's expedient staging and her energetic ensemble that we're able to cover so much ground during the tall tale's zippy 55-minute running time.

A quick primer for the uninitiated: Local restaurant owner Wang Chi (Dwight Sora), distraught after his green-eyed bride-to-be Miao Yin (Pearl Paramadilok) is kidnapped by the nefarious David Lo Pan (David Skvarla), recruits gambling pal Burton to assist in her rescue. Fortified by a few swigs of firewater, the swaggering braggart goes toe-to-toe with Lo Pan and his mystical thugs Thunder (Ben Alvovias), Lightning (Mike Movido), and Rain (Viet Vy), sending weeds a-tumblin' and sparks a-flyin'.

Just to sweeten the pot, the prim Gracie Law (Sam Long) and her rambunctious sidekick Margo Litzenberger (Ali Keirn) are drawn into the madness, while Lo Pan's "Henchstitutes," a deadly and delicious dynamic duo of saloon lasses (Polley Cooney, Sharayah Kay) even the score. Local busybody Ed Shensworth (Adam Rosowicz) - who may be more than he seems - rounds out the colorful cast of eccentrics.

As with any spoof/send-up/tribute, some jokes land square on the jaw while others miss the spittoon and leave a stain, but thanks to the exuberant performances (particularly Skvarla's Dead(wood)-on riff of Ian McShane and McKeirn's unhinged hard-drinking, foul-mouthed scrapperton), there's never a dull moment to be had; we actually welcome the brief respite the scene changes provide. Special notice to Jared Dennis' multitude of snazzy cartoonish brawls, a flurry of feet and fists that dazzle the eye with their inventiveness even as they tickle the funnybone.

The Big, The Trouble, and The Little China opens tonight at the Royal George Theatre, 1641 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60614 and runs through May 23rd with shows Thurs - Sat at 8pm, with one 3pm matinee on Sunday, May 3. More details available at the New Millennium website.

"Jes' tell 'em Margo sentcha, ya sonsabitches..."


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