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Stage Review

Misfits Love Company in Stages' 'God of the Odd'

November 19, 1998|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Roger Freeman's "The God of the Odd," having its world premiere production at Stages in Anaheim, is itself odd. It's a charming reminder of the gothic curiosities that popped up on page, stage and screen in the '30s and early '40s, from Todd Browning's "Freaks" to William Lindsay Gresham's "Nightmare Alley."

It takes place today in a carnival side show run by slimy Cranston Dollarhide--its indicative character names are another nod to the past.

Dollarhide is evil incarnate, but he knows a good pitchman when he hears one and immediately hires giggling, charismatic Thomas Allswell to front his museum of freaks, which Dollarhide runs with the gentleness of a Gestapo sadist.

Allswell befriends the company of human novelties, drinking himself further and further into the nightmare of his past. It turns out that, to win his love, he had burned her husband's house. Their plan was to pretend that she died in the fire. Then she would be free to marry Allswell.

But the plan backfired. The fire drove her mad, seriously marred their unborn son and left the husband disfigured. The hero is on his path to doom.

Most of this is pretty silly dramatic putty today, but director Patrick Gwaltney and his company are so sincere that the play works as a valentine to a lost genre.

The actors seem to believe in the high-flown, full-moon gothic philosophy they spout, even when it sounds like quotes from Maria Ouspenskaya, crouched on the seat of her Gypsy wagon, explaining weirdness to the Wolf Man.

As Allswell, Michael Kroeker is handsome and charming at first--before the realization of who his new associates are twists his mind and soul. Kroeker's restraint throughout is commendable.

The laid-back oiliness of K.C. Mercer as Dollarhide effectively surrounds the character with an evil aura. The quivering strangeness of Robert Dean Nunez as Roofus, Dollarhide's sniveling assistant, is well-matched by the stoic, monolithic image of bodyguard, Tac-Tac (Matt Freeman).

The freaks all have the proper sense of dark destiny. Michael M. Miller is most notable as Turt, the Turtle Man with a cringing, gentle manner, simple-minded optimism and blind adoration of his mother.

Matt Tully's Lunaman, an albino purportedly dropped from the moon, is a grotesquery who in the side show pretends to eat live rats but secretly cuddles them.

Steve Mayeda's mysterious lighting, Kirk Huff's eerie sound design and director Gwaltney's able re-creation of the murky world behind the sleazy carnival glitter contribute to an entertainment that brings a smile along with its fright.

BE THERE

"The God of the Odd," Stages, 1188 N. Fountain Way, Anaheim. 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 6 p.m. Sunday. $10. Ends Nov. 29. (714) 630-3059. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

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