Review of The Thing – A Live Parody! at Cherokee Street Theatre

    Two years ago, Cherokee Street Theatre Company made a promising debut with a parody of Gremlins, a comedy horror movie set at Christmas time. After an unavoidable pandemic pause, the company is keeping that promise with another delightful spoof of Hollywood horror.

    This time, Cherokee Street is sending up John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing. The 1982 film was not successful in its original release but won a cult following on video and television, particularly for its elaborate, often repulsive, special effects.

    In the opening scene, a Norwegian helicopter is chasing a sled dog across a vast Antarctic snowscape. One of the passengers keeps firing at the dog with no success. The chase continues after the copter lands near an American research base.

    Still pursuing the dog, the non-English-speaking shooter wounds an American and draws fire that kills him before he can make himself understood. The dog, in fact, is not really a dog. It is an alien life form that can genetically mimic any other organism. The alien thing had been frozen for millennia before the Norwegian’s cohorts discovered and revived it. If left unchecked, the thing could quickly assimilate all life on Earth.

    The opening pursuit is a typical example of the adapters’ gift for parody. The dog is an actor in an adorable costume by Kayla Lindsay. The helicopter is a handheld propeller on a stick the pursuer is holding up and spinning. This chase is funny even if you aren’t familiar with the original. The same is true of specious effects that replace special effects. A flame thrower is an important prop in the film. The play’s substitute is a witty repurposing of an everyday object with a few attachments.

    One of the most startling scenes in the film an autopsy that goes horribly wrong. The play creates a similar sense of surprise through director Suki Peters’ clever use of the space and the work of Stan Davis and Amy Kelly, who were props masters and puppet designers.

    As the rough and ready MacReady, Ben Ritchie captures the laidback star power Kurt Russell exhibited in the film. Chuck Brinkley’s Blair unerringly recalls the movie’s Wilford Brimley.

    The entire cast turns in delightful performances in the right spirit for a parody. The following list of Cherokee Street actors and their roles includes the name of the corresponding film actor in parentheses.

    • Ron Strawbridge was Childs (Keith David)
    • Rachel Bailey was Velma Bennings (Peter Maloney) and others
    • Ted Drury was Garry (Donald Moffat) and others
    • Joseph Garner was Palmer (David Clennon) and others
    • Payton Gillam was Doggo (Jed) and others
    • Donald Kidd was Clark (Richard Masur) and others
    • Ryan Lawson-Maeske was Norris (Charles Hallahan) and others
    • Rob McLemore was Doc (Richard Dysart)
    • Victor Mendez was Windows (Thomas Waites) and others
    • Tina Scholl was Fuchs and others (Joel Polis)
    • Nic Tayborn was Nauls (T.K. Carter) and others

    James Spurlock’s lights, Michael Musgrave-Perkins’s sound, and Rachel Bailey’s vocal coaching all add to the fun.

    The Two on the Aisle critics come to this show from different perspectives. Bob has never seen the movie. I watched it on the same day as the play. My familiarity with the original enriched my appreciation of the adapters’ ingenuity, but both of us feel The Thing – A Live Parody! has much to offer audiences new to the story.

    —Gerry Kowarsky

    Photo by Rachel Bailey