Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Exorsissy"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi


by Ryan Landry
directed by James P. Byrne

Birdie Dennings/Dr. Knockers/God … Penny Champagne (Scott Martino)
Chris MacNeil … Ryan Landry
Ronald Reagan MacNeil … Haylee Shrimpton
Jane/Father Merin/Dr. Bladders … Larry Coen
Sharon Spencer … Olive Another
Damien Karras … Chris Loftus
Rose Karras … James P. Byrne
Lieutenant Kinderman … Afrodite
Father Tom/Nancy Reagan/Nabob … Walter “Bonkers” MacLean
Astronaut/Adam … Batgirl (Rick Dunn)
Nurse … Megan Love
Demon … Elise Garfinkel

THE EXORCISSY, Ryan Landry’s spin on the 1973 horror film THE EXORCIST, is his wildest spoof, yet. Mr. Landry retains enough of the film’s plot --- a young girl becomes possessed by the Devil who is exorcised by two priests, one who accidentally unleashed the fiend through archeological research and another who is losing his faith --- and filters it through today’s political landscape: the girl Regan becomes the boy-girl Reagan and his/her mother Chris, an actress in the book and the film, is now a single parent running for President on the Republican ballot. Chris begins as an anti-gay activist; after numerous comic-horrific set pieces, she decides to quit politics and take the now-saved Reagan to Denmark for a sex change; a glowering Swiss maid has been stirred into the brew and the film director who gets his head realigned has been revised as a lesbian press agent in love with Chris. It may not sound hilarious, but it is, it is --- the book and the film are hyped-up trash (the Devil, lacking true satanic majesty and wit, is equivalent to a Catholic schoolboy scrawling “Sister Angela Sucks” on a bathroom wall) but Mr. Landry, director James P. Byrne and their clowns are accomplished trashmen themselves and, considering the film has been imitated and parodied over the years, they pull much that is fresh and truly inventive from the dumpster. What makes THE EXORCISSY so wild is the Messrs. Landry and Byrne give the semblance of a film unfolding with their whirlwind blackouts from the main stage and from the aisles --- curtains are forever opening and closing at breakneck speed. If the physical flow tends to trip over its own heels (!) now and then, remember that flesh is not celluloid but even the occasional “oops” only adds to the winking fun. (The Orphans are capable of quiet moments, as well, the evening’s loveliest being Mr. Landry’s Chris, lost in thought, walking through the audience while falling leaves litter her path.)

If you attend enough Orphan shows, you come to see its members as a tightly-knit family, each with his or her unique music: there are Penny Champagne (Scott Martino) who alternates butch broads and breathless bombshells with equal ease; Olive Another, so good at sending up the kind of hyper, perky women that one finds in secretarial pools; Haylee Shrimpton, whose child-actress days are numbered but whose adult-actress days are not; Afrodite, who makes a welcome return as a smoldering policewoman (another gender change from the book/film) and Walter “Bonkers” MacLean as a needlepointing priest nostalgic for Boston's now-gone Napoleon bar (children, ask your uncles). The newest members, Larry Coen and Chris Loftus, are making bedrock contributions: Mr. Coen with his subtle mannerisms and sly inflections (his Swiss maid is a dumpy hoot) and Mr. Loftus who is becoming the troupe’s leading man or at least a sturdy foil to all of the zaniness: anyone who can keep a poker face when confronted with Mr. Landry wearing his sunglasses askew and resembling a zonked-out praying mantis is to be commended. Elise Garfinkel, a diminutive character actress, alternates with Ms. Shrimpton as Reagan’s possession goes from bad to worse; Ms. Garfinkel’s purring, throaty voice, not needing any technical assistance in order to sound menacing, is an aural pleasure --- where has she been hiding? Ms. Garfinkel claims the evening’s highlight --- Reagan’s levitation --- to which I am mum; it simply must be seen to be believed. To witness this simple but effective coup de théâtre is to leave you poised between laughter and wonder and which shows the Orphans at their best.


"The Exorcissy" (14 October - 20 November)
The Ramrod Center for the Performing Arts at Machine, 1256 Boylston Street,
1 (617) 265-6222

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide