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‘Alligator-a-Phobia in 3D!’ Review: Delightfully Absurd and Absurdly Meaningful

Katherine Perry and Leah Kreitz in "Alligator-a-Phobia in 3D!" a play with music by Jay Eddy
Katherine Perry and Leah Kreitz in "Alligator-a-Phobia in 3D!" a play with music by Jay Eddy By Courtesy of Stratton McCrady
By Aiden J. Bowers, Crimson Staff Writer

A title like “Alligator-a-Phobia in 3D!” begs several questions. Who’s afraid? Why alligators? What makes this particular stage play “3D”? A Boston University New Play Initiative Production, written by Jay Eddy, directed by Shamus, and produced by Boston Playwrights’ Theatre and the Boston University College of Fine Arts School of Theatre, the self-described play with music “Alligator-a-Phobia in 3D!” fearlessly grabs these questions by the scales and delivers an absurdly delightful exploration of loneliness, fear, and change.

The show focuses on a couple, Happy (Leah Kreitz) and Sweetness (Katherine Perry), and their move to the swamp for Sweetness’s job at a nature magazine. As the couple settle in, greeted by their friends (Zach Fontanez and Sam Plattus), the alligators, and other wildlife who p0pulate the swamp (Maurie Moore, Kendall Mcshane, Savannah Scott, and Ernesto Garrido Gonzonales), Happy begins to reckon with her feelings of isolation, desperation, and fear, which the happy-and-sweet couple learns to embrace together. Part absurd comedy, part chilling horror, the show expertly crafts a meaningful and entertaining confusion.

The play is filled from start to finish with poignant messages, frightening horror, and powerful punchlines. With only eight cast members, each actor must pull their dramatic and comedic weight, and each actor succeeded. While very archetypal characters can often feel static, these characters are quite three-dimensional — earning the “3D” title — and carry a depth to offset the frequently ridiculous exterior. Nonetheless, the balance of cartoonishness, meaning, and harrowing horror would benefit from reworking. Actors opted for a comic, unrealistic tone and style, which served its purpose for most of the show but at times fell flat.

Scenes are interspersed with thematic music that blends rockabilly, blues, zydeco, country, and funk. The actors also serve as musicians, and their instruments are strewn about the edges of the stage, adding an extra layer of energy to the performance. The music breaks up what could be an otherwise disjointed flow of events and emphasizes key elements of the narrative.

The final culmination of comedic-yet-scary, horror technical elements seemed incomplete. Dynamic red lighting, shadow puppetry, and musical sound effects created the perfect ambience — but they didn’t last long enough.

The interactive nature of “Alligator-a-Phobia in 3D!” delivers on its promise of a “3D” production and makes the show a true gem. Beach balls and an inflatable alligator thrown into the audience bring the narrative straight to the theatergoers. At the same time, the concert-like atmosphere breaks down barriers between performers and audience members. During certain musical numbers, signs invite audience members to sing along, casting aside the austere aspects of absurdism and embracing the ability of audience and cast to create art together — making the show more fun for everyone.

Visually, “Alligator-a-Phobia in 3D!” is stunning. Upon walking into the black box theater, patrons are immediately met with a vibrant, elaborate barrage of blues, greens, and yellows from set to props to costumes. Designed by scenic designer and props artisan Ami Okazaki, the set is an amalgamation of colorful doors and windows resembling a house. It only abstractly resembles what it means to convey, suitable for a play that does the same. Though the set is static, it is well-dressed with creative props and vibrant set pieces — including furniture represented by labeled moving boxes — which make the stage feel alive. The opening, closing, and sometimes barricaded doors allow for dynamic chase scenes and quirky interactions. Each detail in the scenic and prop design supports the cast in their zany interactions, and no bauble goes unused or unnoticed. All of the objects onstage are essential to the excitement and absurdity that make “Alligator-a-Phobia in 3D!” thoroughly enjoyable.

The costumes, masterfully designed by Michael O’Herron, meld actors and set into one coherent concept. Glittery, frilly alligators visually contrast nasty, scary interiors. Cartoonish visors represent the other two alligators in key moments. In contrast with the colorful but regular clothes of Happy and Sweetness, the alligators stand out as outlandish and surreal. These lighthearted caricatures engender real fear, deepening the thrilling tension that drives the show as a whole.

The Boston University New Play Initiative’s Production of “Alligator-a-Phobia in 3D!” is as shocking as it is meaningful. In the show, cartoonishness intentionally masks fear, speaking to a post-pandemic audience. Simultaneously a dream, nightmare, and blues concert, “Alligator-a-Phobia in 3D!” manages coherent disjointedness and delightful absurdity, making it worth the watch.

—Staff writer Aiden J. Bowers can be reached at aiden.bowers@thecrimson.com.

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