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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Dad's Garage's 'Slaughter Camp' takes a stab at musical horror

A FAREWELL TO WEINERS: Z. Gillispie and John Benzinger
Dad's Garage Theatre grafts song-and-dance numbers to satirical gags to horrific set pieces in Slaughter Camp, a double-pronged musical parody of summer camp and 1980s-style slasher films like Friday the 13th. Written by Chris Craddock, with lyrics by Kevin Gillese and music by Sydney Ellis Gaskins, Slaughter Camp succeeds better with the scares than either the tunes or the jokes, even though it's theoretically a musical comedy first.

The action takes place at Laughter Camp, a summertime performing arts getaway for young people, with actors doubling up to play various familiar types: Taylor M. Dooley both the virginal good girl and a disdainful Goth, Gina Rickicki a socially awkward stage manager and a substance-abusing pop star, Chris Rittelmeyer as a German dancer and a white rapper. The camp's pompous director Drake (John Benzinger) plans a production of Macbeth, which just happens to fall on the 20th anniversary of a massacre when a puppetry-obsessed camper went nutzoid.

Slaughter Camp's cleverest number evokes the summertime ritual of creepy campfire stories by recounting "The Legend of the Laughter Camp Killer" in rap form. In the second act, "It Was You" features the show's best choreography as two women accuse each other of being the killer and try to convince the befuddled white rapper. Otherwise, the songs don't stick in the mind melodically nor dramatically.

Directed by Daniel May, the show delivers a homicidal madman with plenty of stage presence, thanks to an eerie mask, crazy-quilt costume and some of that unstoppable Jason Voorhees body language. At one point, more than one actor wears the suit, so the killer always seems to be ahead of his potential victim as she runs through the entire playhouse. On the comedy side, the best jokes tend to be the throwaway-sounding lines, like Drake's boast, "I'm old enough to drink wine — and have done so!" During the end of one scene, Rittelmeyer remarks, "Come on, Campfire!" and takes the fake-burning prop with him off-stage like a housepet.

Z. Gillispie gives a pair of amusing performances as the painfully sincere head of Camp Laughter, as well as a macho camper with a heavy-metal voice. Benzinger plays some funny supporting roles, but Drake resembles too many of the actor's other roles as arrogant artistes. He played a much more well-developed director in Actor's Express' Slasher last summer. Dooley seems out of her depth as a singer, but reveals an impressive physical presence, particularly when she demonstrates some martial arts choreography that comes as Slaughter Camp's most pleasing surprise.

Overall, Slaughter Camp relies on sketchy characters and thin relationships, and the musicalization doesn't bring much out of either the summer camp or slasher genres — which aren't exactly complex to begin with. Dad's 2008 debut of Song of the Living Dead had flaws, but took greater advantage of the notion of singing, dancing zombies. It feels like Dad's Garage fell in love with the pitch for Slaughter Camp, but neglected to put much meat on its bones.

Slaughter Camp. Through June 25. Dad’s Garage Theatre, 280 Elizabeth St. 8 p.m., Thu.-Sat. 404-523-3141. www.dadsgarage.com

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