University of Pittsburgh Repertory Theatre has wasted its resources, doing nothing special with a Halloween-time show called Slasher, subtitled "A Horrifying Comedy."
Allison Moore wrote it. And director Holly Thuma has her cast playing it earnestly, rather than turning it into a laugh-provoking send-up. The play, evidently created to comment on violent horror movies by depicting one being made, offers few pungent points, with only sidelong glances at ideas as to why audiences flock to such junk or why women are always victims.
Instead, the 90 minutes spin away from pretend blood and gore into real violence, leaving little to the imagination. But you may have to use your imagination to understand the dialogue. This is performed backstage at the Charity Randall Theater, which has the resonance of a school basketball court, further exacerbated by people shouting a lot to get points across. At a time of year when mystery is emphasized, this choice of venue becomes a mystery.
You can see underpinnings for comedy. The stock characters include swarmy, small-time movie director Marc Hunter; mostly innocent, firmly breasted Sheena; and her crippled, nasty mother, Frances. In these roles Sam Turich, Celena Mauti and Tara Velan become quite believable. The other members of the eight-member cast leave equally acceptable impressions. No one overplays. And no one seems funny.
Hunter comes to a small Texas town to shoot a seat-of-the-pants slasher movie. Getting turned on to Sheena, a waitress without performing experience, he offers her a starring role. Frances, the bitter occupant of a motorized wheelchair, tries to prevent the girl from being exploited. Much of the action consists of attempts to make the movie until Frances invades the set, intent on actual violence.
Moore's dialogue seems as primitive as the juvenile set-up, so Thuma and her cast have a major job to make something clever out of it. Why they undertook this becomes a second mystery. Yet this script premiered at the prestigious Humana Festival, in 2009, and has been produced at theaters around the country. Someone finds it worth a shot.
Moore, moreover, has solid credits: a Guthrie Theater commission, two plays at Illusion Theater in Minneapolis, two more at Dallas' Kitchen Dog Theater, and more. Audiences don't get this info; the program book allots Moore no space. Aren't universities supposed to teach drama students about the importance of writers?
Slasher runs through Sun., Nov. 7. Charity Randall Theatre, Stephen Foster Memorial, Forbes Avenue at Bigelow, Oakland. 412-624-7529 or www.play.pitt.edu