The Dead Hooker Play
nytheatre.com review by Kristin Skye Hoffmann
August 11, 2013
Scotty Decker’s latest offering to FringeNYC is his new work, The Dead Hooker Play, and it is definitely as dark and wacky as the title suggests. We begin in a cheap motel room where Miles, our murderous hero played by the playwright/director himself, stands in a state of calm consideration over the body of the “dead hooker” in question. Almost immediately he joins a whirlwind of ridiculousness when his overage hipster friend, Marco ( played by a manic Jim Conroy) who’s skinny jeans just aren’t quite skinny enough, blows in and announces that he’s been “candy flipping” (thank you, Urban Dictionary) a variety of drugs and huffing paint or glue or something. Marco seems to be unphased by the whole idea of a dead hooker in the room and is completely accepting of Miles’ matter of fact proclamation that he himself has murdered her. It is his “very first murder” after all and as he says, “Every monster was a man first.”
Following a barrage of unapologetic “stand-up style” pop culture criticisms and hate mongering from both, Lee (played by Sean Modica) a self-described “50/50 homosexual” and part-time necrophiliac, joins the madness. It is the night before Miles’ wedding to the devil incarnate, Kelly (Madeleine James) and Miles will do anything to get out of it. This hesitation is totally motivated since, as we eventually learn, Kelly is about as awful a female specimen as one could possibly find on earth. James should be commended for embracing such an awful human being with no apologies and running with the character full force. That must have been tough because Kelly truly is the WORST.
The pace is fast and it is difficult at times to catch up with all the truly funny dialogue Decker has constructed. The jokes I was able to catch elicited hefty laughs for the most part. There were quite a few that fell unnecessarily flat and I think I know why. Decker, as director, toes the line between edgy dark comedy and a sort of self-aware vaudeville routine. (At times it felt as if someone was going to magically produce a ventriloquist dummy and eventually a giant cane would yank them off the stage.) Due to the semi-realistic set/circumstances it wasn’t clear what kind of humor was intended and so it leaves the audience in sort of a half-grinning stupor as they try to follow the events and laugh when prompted. It is for this reason that I believe Decker might benefit from stepping out of the director chair for this piece. Lindsay Stringfellow is credited as “co-director” yet the production smacks of an artist who is just a step too close to the material to be objective. The play needed to go one way or another, rather than waft in between two genres.
I’m still trying to decide if the choice to chronologically reverse the order of the two acts, separated by an intermission, was wise. It is nice to have answers by the end of a play rather than the beginning, but I was so confused for the first half that it almost counteracted the quality of the text and I spent so much time trying to piece circumstances together that it was difficult to watch. This could be due to the break neck speed in which the information was delivered. I wonder if a more traditional structure would have motivated the crazy and somehow heartbreaking climax.
In any case this play has enormous potential. The cast is strong and if they manage to find a point where they can settle into the roles rather than work so hard at the comedy, they might even find a few more genuine moments. Maria Pastel’s performance as Hope the hooker is reminiscent of a 1985 Lesley Ann Warren. She somehow seems to ground the jittery, gesture ridden performance from Decker. Their scenes together were a treat and managed to unearth some truly poetic moments even through the harsh, racist, drug-addled circumstances. Decker and his team should be commended and this play is definitely worth a look. The epic nod to the B-52s song “Love Shack” is worth the price of the ticket all on its own.