Final Curtain: The Last of Ed Wood
nytheatre.com review by Kimberly Wadsworth
June 22, 2012
The “so bad it’s good” genre of entertainment is an acquired taste. But its fans (and I’m among them) are especially devoted—the more stilted the acting, the more florid the writing, and the more inept the special effects, the more we love it. For devotees, a king of the field was filmmaker Ed Wood, best known for the B-movie classic Plan 9 From Outer Space. But director Frank Cwiklik has chosen some lesser-known works for his series of stage adaptations. This particular film, Night of the Ghouls, was so obscure that no one knew it existed until 1983. But that was because Wood simply couldn’t afford to process the film, and it sat in a warehouse for 23 years until a wealthy fan paid the tab (however, the resulting film was so bad—even for Wood—that fans have politely ignored it).
The plot is straight out of the Wood playbook, with zombies and ghosts by the score, square-jawed cops exploring spooky houses and a brooding villain called Dr. Acula (get it?), whose experiments in “contacting the dead” cause more trouble than he bargained for. Offering comic relief is inept cop Officer Kelton (Adam Files), who’s dragged, whimpering, into helping Lt. Carson (Jason Stanley) stop Dr. Acula (Craig Kelton Peterson).
Cwiklik may be honoring Ed Wood, but some elements of his adaptation reminded me of another b-movie master, William Castle. Castle’s films often called for interactive gimmicks, like rubber skeletons dropping out of theater ceilings during screenings; doing Night of the Ghouls live lets Cwiklik use some similar interactivity. Also, preceding the play with a series of trailers and a tape of an Ed Wood short film felt like an episode of the classic television show Mystery Science Theater 3000.
But the evening isn’t pure homage. Cwiklik found a way to feature “opening credits” in the form of a projection on the back wall, but it’s set to a far more rockin’ score than Wood would have used. Later, in a scene where Carson faces capture at the hands of a mysterious black ghost (Shiloh Klein), the pair’s movements are probably sexier than in the original.
What I missed was seeing a bit more Wood-style acting from the cast. Not that their performances weren’t good—they were. But that’s precisely the problem—now and then, bless them, some tried to give realistic performances, and with Ed Wood it doesn’t work unless you completely ham it up. Files’ turn as the inept officer was most “Wood-esque”; the squad captain, Helen Robbins (Lindsey Carter), also has fun as a stereotypical “hard-boiled” commanding officer. Another scene-stealer was cast member Josh Potter, in two minor roles as a redneck trucker and a teen punk, both early victims to the ghouls of the story.
On the whole, though, the show captures a good chunk of Wood’s seat-of-the-pants, warts-and-all style. There apparently were a couple technical problems with the performance I saw, but I honestly hadn’t noticed—the charm of Wood’s work was its imperfection. He sincerely believed his work was just as good as a more polished film, and dared us to agree. Cwiklik has taken that dare.