downtownexpress.com
Volume 19 | Issue 33 | December 15 - 21, 2006

A very merry, scary off-off Broadway season

The Sci-Fi Soothsayer

Leave it to Les Freres Corbusier to teach us what the other half believes. This fall, the experimental theater company exposed New Yorkers to the way Christian fundamentalists celebrate Halloween by installing a Jerry Falwell-inspired Hell House in Brooklyn. Now, in time for Christmas, the company clues us in on the teachings of Scientology using the irresistible vehicle of a kids’ musical. In “A Very Merry Unauthorized Childrens’ Scientology Pageant” — which premiered in 2003 at The Tank — ten munchkins deliver a surprisingly catchy musical tale of L. Ron Hubbard’s spiritual awakening and his church’s subsequent fall from tax-exempt status. Sean Moran plays the charismatic L. Ron as he searches the world for life’s meaning. Unhappy with the answers he gets — one New Yorker, played by William Wiggins, tells him, “The only thing that matters is success,” before returning to his cell phone call — he creates the pseudo-scientific cult celebrities love. Watching the adorable Wiggins play Tom Cruise, Katie, and Suri is worth the $25 ticket alone. Through Jan. 7 at New York Theater Workshop, 82 E. 4th St., 212-239-6200. — Nicole Davis

The Ghost Teller

Dan Bianchi’s “The Haunting of 85 East 4th Street” is most eerily effective when real life and real history trumps the paranormal. Told in the intimate Red Room theater, located on the upper level of — wouldn’t you know it, 85 East 4th Street — the Radiotheatre acting troupe has constructed an old-fashioned radio show, incorporating sound effects, impersonations and a flair for the melodramatic. Era by era, the show’s four performers recount the sordid history of this building. It’s stood through times of plagues, prejudice and paranoia — even before construction, the land itself was thought to be cursed — and handfuls of people have been found dead inside, including one who was thrown down the building’s staircase so hard he cracked the first floor’s tiles. These historical accounts keep this piece of radio theater moving forward. Things stall, though, when that history is occasionally molded for quick scares, as when the cast claims a dead woman’s screams can still be heard through the walls. To Bianchi’s credit, it’s the cold hard truth that sucks us in. And while we’re not going to go home shrieking in terror, one can’t help but notice the cracked tiles at the bottom of that staircase and those other buildings lining East 4th Street, each with their own silent mysteries. Through Dec. 23 at The Red Room, 85 East 4th Street, 212-868-4444. —Steven Snyder

The Hell Raiser

There’s much to please in the new stage production of “Carrie” at Performance Space 122: the drag queen Sherry Vine in the title role, 1970s cheese rock, and buckets of fake blood. Theatre Couture reinvents the classic Steven King horror story as splatter-comedy camp, and charms its Gen-X audience with the irony and nostalgia of ’80s dance night at the disco. Initially, Sherry Vine, a legend in drag theater, seems constrained in the role of cowering, downtrodden Carrie. But this big fabulous drag queen shows her power as a performer when Carrie starts to fight back in the second half of the show, using her telekinetic powers to take revenge on her tormentors, sending daggers flying (with the help of visible marionette strings) and flames ripping through the cafeteria, courtesy of the acclaimed puppet artist Basil Twist. The other actors are exuberantly over-the-top from start to finish, with Kate Goehring as Carrie’s repressed Bible-thumping mother and Keri Meoni as Norma the dumb popular girl turning in particularly funny performances. This show won’t change the way you think about Stephen King, telekinesis, or Downtown theater. But if you’re looking for laughs and a trip down memory lane, “Carrie” delivers the goods. Through December 30, P.S. 122, 150 First Avenue, 212-352-3101; — Jennifer DeMerrit

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