Every year as Halloween approaches, playwright Clay McCleod Chapman gets together with a gang of actors, draws an unsuspecting audience into a bunker concealed beneath St. Mark’s Place and makes them all laugh… until the screaming starts. This year, he and his crew set a course for terror in The Pumpkin Pie Show: Seasick.
In previous years, The Pumpkin Pie Show consisted of self-contained monologs that weren’t directly connected to each other. This time around the show is made up of inter-weaving monologs that all combine to tell a single tale of a cruise ship struck with a horrid plague.
The plot couldn’t be more timely. Since Seasick opened, the nation has been swept by ebola panic, however the show was in production before ebola hysteria arrived, and it is similar to several previous incidents where passengers on real cruises were infected with non-lethal viruses.
Because Seasick is a comedy, the fictional plague isn’t deadly. The infected simply vomit all over the ship in a disgusting manner. The show still uses zombie movie tropes to depict the viral outbreak, including one scene that uses lines from Dawn of the Dead verbatim as an inside joke for zombie movie fans. Although the virus itself isn’t deadly, there are still sinister forces at play that slowly reveal themselves over the course of the show.
Audiences witness these events through the eyes of various passengers and crew members. Brian Silliman plays a family man who has brought his wife and kids on their big dream vacation. Alas, they find themselves caught up in the outbreak, and Silliman blusters his way through the crisis as a parody of the “Everyman Who Inevitably Cracks Under The Stress” character found in most disaster movies.
The rest of the cast play the crew of the damned vessel. Katie Hartman is a woman who runs the ship’s “Fun Zone” where neglected children are left while their parents are off enjoying themselves. The fact that real cruise ships have such designated dumping grounds for kids is horrific enough, but Seasick combines the Fun Zone with the shopping mall from Dawn of the Dead, and has Hartman barricade herself inside while a mob of vomit-soaked kids staggers around outside.
Hanna Cheek is Chapman’s recurring co-star in The Pumpkin Pie Show, returning each year in a new role. This year she is cast as a crewmember who struggles to keep the passengers entertained, even though she is the last remaining member of the entertainment staff, and most of the passengers are vomiting uncontrollably. The role calls for a mixture of wide-eyed optimism, and thinly-veiled nihilism.
Abe Goldfarb is the ship’s unappreciated French chef who ends up providing the most overt menace of the story (Despite his outrrrageous French accent). Playwright Clay McLeod Chapman plays the ship’s Captain, who begins the story as a humorous figure, but ends up delivering some of the creepiest moments of the show.
The cast each handle their roles exceptionally well. The piece makes a slow slide from farce to horror over the course of the evening, and all five of the performers eventually tackle that transition. Unfortunately the show is paced so that the darker events all come at the end.
In previous installments, The Pumpkin Pie Show was made up of short pieces that were presented back to back. Each of which started off funny before some terrifying reveal at the end. With Seasick, Chapman bounces back and forth between each story and lets them all come to a close together. Because the dark twists are all placed at the tail end of the evening, the characters are in little danger for most of the story. The audience eventually learns a couple of gruesome secrets, but not until the show is mostly over.
Cruise ships are sugar-coated dystopias even in the best of circumstances, and the recent rash of “disasters” besetting them is the very definition of #FirstWorldProblems. It’s a perfect target for satire, and Chapman captures the difference between the horrors of a ruined vacation, and true horror. Seasick has one week left of performances as of this writing, and is an excellent choice for a Halloween scare/laugh.
The Pumpkin Pie Show: Seasick runs through November 2nd at Under St. Mark’s on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Tickets and more information are available at www.claymcleodchapman.com.