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Epic Battles 

Ripcord and Evil Dead: The Musical

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Evil Dead: The Musical.

Ripcord

David Lindsay-Abaire's Ripcord, the current production at Redwood Curtain, reunites three local favorites, director Cassandra Hesseltine and lead players Peggy Metzger and Susan Abbey, who teamed up for Lindsay-Abaire's excellent Good People at Redwood Curtain earlier this year. It's a dream team that's clearly at home with the touching and humorous perspective on life that is a signature of Lindsay-Abaire's work.

Abby (Metzger) is someone we all know and try hard to love. She's a professional grump who dedicates her life to pushing people away when all they want to do is be friends. What she's really doing is protecting herself against ever being hurt the way she was in the past. Marilyn (Abbey) is Abby's polar opposite — always chirpy and cheerful, full of life and with the potential to be as irritating as all get-out. Fate — always ready with a potentially untenable situation — has Marilyn assigned to be Abby's new roommate at the Bristol Place Senior Living Center in suburban New Jersey, the latest in a long line of roomies that Abby's managed to dispatch over the previous four years.

In an attempt to beat Abby at her own game, Marilyn stages a contest of wills. If Abby can make Marilyn lose her temper, she'll move out. But if Marilyn can scare Abby, she gets to stay and claim the bed by the window. Thus begins the great challenge, starting with a visit to a haunted house where long-suffering Bristol Place orderly and part-time actor Scotty (David Hamilton) is performing. Then the dirty tricks really begin as the women research each other's lives and weaponize each other's families. Marilyn's daughter Colleen (Natasha White), son Lewis (Jeremy Webb) and son-in law Derek (Gary Bowman) become willing participants in the game.

As the stakes get ever higher, the women are forced to confront their own weaknesses and fears — the deep secrets they've been hiding under their outward personas — including Abby's long-lost son Benjamin (Webb, again). But, like the characters in Good People, these two eventually learn that they can live with each other and live in the world as the people they really are because they are two sides of the same coin.

Metzger inhabits Abby's vulnerable grumpiness like a second skin, while Abbey imbues Marilyn's optimism with a level of intensity that would try the patience of a saint. Hamilton excels as caught-in-the-middle Scotty and Webb definitely tugs on a few heartstrings as Benjamin. White and Bowman tread a fine line between enthusiastic participant and concerned family members. And Hesseltine orchestrates the games with a fine sense of the tragic potential lurking beneath the comic surface of this all-too-relatable story.

The cast is ably supported by Robert Pickering's scenic design, lighting design by Hesseltine and Justin Takata, Laura Rhinehart's costume design, Jon Turney's sound design, properties by Morgan Broom, Sebby Le's light and sound, and stage manager Jessica McKnight.

Redwood Curtain's Ripcord plays Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. until Nov. 17. Call 443-7688 or visit www.redwoodcurtain.com.

— Pat Bitton

Evil Dead: The Musical

Long before he became a Hollywood A-list player for directing three mega-grossing Spider-Man movies, Sam Raimi was a man who achieved something even cooler: cult status. He did it by dropping out of college in 1981 and making a low-budget horror movie called The Evil Dead, which took off late in the 1980s, when VHS was king, with the release of its sequel Evil Dead 2. I watched both quite a bit behind the counter at the video store where I then worked. (Yeah, I was that guy.)

Through the pluck of a few dreamers, a musical adaptation was born, first staged in Toronto in 2003, then off-Broadway and now at the Gist Hall Theatre at Humboldt State University. The three films of the Evil Dead franchise — all of which provide material for this adaptation — are already laced with dark humor and high camp, both of which director Rae Robinson's production and cast bite into with gusto.

All a novice needs to know (other than there's a whole lot of simulated gore done with great smarts and creativity), is that the plot jumps off from the trope of five young college kids spending a weekend at a spooky cabin in some dark woods. Ash (William English III) is the leader of the group, and is accompanied by his girlfriend (Shawn Wagner), his sister (Elizabeth Whittemore) and another young couple, Scott (Victor Parra) and Shelly (Gwynnevere Cristobal). Scary noises outside the cabin and within lead to the discovery of weapons modern and otherwise, a 13th century book of the dead and a tape recorder with the scary voice of a researcher. From there things go haywire and hilarious alongside the gore.

Ahh, but with songs aplenty! There are, alas, some clunkers within the lineup but a couple of standouts involving the main players are "Look Who's Evil Now" and "What the Fuck Was That," as well as the full-cast musical number "Do The Necronomicon" in the second act. As Ash, English does a remarkable job channeling the character Bruce Campbell made famous — not just with the slicked-back hair and bloody flannel. As his sister Cheryl, Whittemore steals the show with her comic timing and all-out physical humor. But none of this would come across so well without the great work of a massive crew of scenic designers, costumers and makeup artists. After all, a hand severed in the first act does return to wreak some havoc in the second.

The Humboldt State University Department of Theatre, Film and Dance's production of Evil Dead: The Musical plays at the Gist Hall Theatre on the HSU campus on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. through Nov. 3, with a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. on Nov. 4. For more information, call 826-3928 or visit www.humboldt.edu/theatre.

— David Jervis

Opening

Prepare for the pressure as North Coast Repertory Theatre presents the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee from Nov. 9 through Dec. 9. Call 442-6278 or visit www.ncrt.net.

From Nov. 21 through Dec. 16, Ferndale Repertory Theatre brings young Ralphie Parker reminiscences to life with A Christmas Story. Call 786-5483 or visit www.ferndalerep.org.

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