When ‘Ultraman’ tickles, the audience squirms
Theatre Intime's production of "Hey, Boy Wonder! The Other Adventures of Ultraman," a student-written musical by Jac Mullen '10 and Shawn Fennell '09 and directed by Doug Lavanture '09, offers an admittedly fun, if chaotic, theatrical experience. Drawing on the comic-book tradition, the musical tells the story of Metropotown, U.S.A., where Ultraman (Pete Walkingshaw '10) lives as an average suburban dad, employing his super powers in secret to protect the town's citizens. When an evil villain, the French Tickler (Damian Carrieri GS) arrives on the scene, Ultraman's powers and the safety of Metropotown are put to the test.
The set of ‘Ultraman' is almost nonexistent: A lone white sheet hangs from the ceiling, behind which a bizarre, cackling hag, Wendy (Julia Rose '12), calls the audience to "tune in" to the events in Metropotown as though the story were being told on television. But it is the colorful, larger-than-life characters that lend the musical its funky flair. From the ever-smiling, plastic persona of Ultraman to the outrageous conniving of the French Tickler and his seductive assistant, Freddie (Jessica Harrop '08), the musical is brimming with characters that seem to have jumped straight from the pages of a comic book.
The personalities of the Metropotown citizens are particularly amusing and lend further color to the production: The town's predatorial reporter Samantha Stein (Arielle Sandor '12) the mayor (Daniel Fletcher '12), and Ultraman's young groupie Timmy the Boy Wonder (Isaac Engels '11) present the typical personalities of a Hometown, U.S.A., story. That said, several other characters bring decidedly unorthodox personalities into the drama, including the threatening, poncho-wearing Pablo (Stephen Strenio '09) and an affectionate stallion (Ryan Serrano '12).
The most amusing and unusual characters, however, are the members of Ultraman's own average, suburban family: His drug-addicted, love-starved wife, Dora (Alexis Kleinman '12) and his Goth son, Scotty (Will Martinez '11), present some of the most entertaining and ridiculous personalities in the musical, at once dramatizing and satirizing the American "identity crisis" that emerges through the course of the musical. Kleinman is a staff writer for the Daily Princetonian.
And, of course, who can overlook the fiendish French Tickler, whose cruel and unusual punishment of choice is - you guessed it - tickling his victims with a feather duster? The villain's penchant for fine wine, his perpetual insecurity over the depth of his evil and his maniacal laughter make for a thoroughly bizarre, thoroughly amusing portrayal of Ultraman's arch-nemesis. In the musical's unorthodox spoof on the typical superhero story, the French Tickler is also revealed to be Ultraman's ex-boyfriend, adding yet another strange dimension to this bizarrely creative production.
In fact, sexuality looms as the not-so-subtle preoccupation of the show. Scotty's fear of "hurting" his girlfriend, Ultraman's refusal to discuss sex with his son, Dora's affair-turned-assault at the hands of Pablo, Samantha Stein's lust for Ultraman and Ultraman's own buried, homosexual past all bring to the surface the sexual frustrations underlying the traditional depiction of those spandex-wearing superheroes. The French Tickler sports a lacy thong over his outfit, and he punishes his male victims by making them wear bras. While this obsession with sexuality becomes tasteless and nonsensical at points, it certainly succeeds in highlighting the repressed anxieties of Metropotown's citizens - superhero and not so superhero alike.
While Ultraman clearly aims to offer a light-hearted, fun-loving theater experience - in the program, the director himself implores audience members, "don't take this show too seriously. Laugh, gosh darnit!" - its entertaining moments are somewhat lost in the show's overwhelming chaos and incoherence. Its obvious intention to satirize both the superhero tradition and the "typical" American town, replete with a threatening Mexican, Goth children, druggy wife and gay father, is amusing, though perhaps something of an overdose. At times, the plot becomes so ridiculous and convoluted that it's difficult to follow, and the characters, though comical, verge on becoming utterly outrageous. (Though, if the musical is meant to be a spoof, I suppose their outrageousness is precisely the point.)
Its identification as a "musical" is also somewhat dubious, since very little singing or dancing actually takes place, and the little that does is hardly notable. The actors are audible and generally in-key but nothing more, and the few dance steps, choreographed sprinkled through the show are mediocre.
Of course, this is a student-written production, so perhaps the obvious creativity of the show should itself be commendable. ‘Ultraman' is certainly a fun, admittedly silly production, and if you're looking to forgo all seriousness for a few hours, perhaps not the worst campus event to attend over the weekend. In terms of theatrical value and real musical achievement, however, it leaves quite a bit wanting.
Pros: Fun, light-hearted production that lampoons superhero stereotypes.
Cons: The creativity of the show is somewhat obscured by its chaotic plot.