Theater Review (NYC): The Pumpkin Pie Show

I wanted to see The Pumpkin Pie Show because it's the long-running product of the fevered brain of Clay McLeod Chapman, who wrote the script of the remarkable musical Hostage Song. While the two shows couldn't be much more different in mood and presentation, both dig for the gory innards of the human soul.

Hostage Song was a drama with rock music about two Western hostages in Iraq crawling towards a twisted kind of redemption, blindfolded the entire time. Pumpkin Pie is a series of stories written by Chapman and performed by Hanna Cheek (who was so good in Hostage Song) and Chapman himself. Stories are what they are called, and although they are for the most part monologues, stories is perhaps the best word. Each of the tales marries the narrative movement of a short story with the distinct first-person voice of a dramatic monologue.

At each show the two actors perform a different half dozen or so out of a total of fourteen stories they've honed over the past ten years. At the outset, actors and audience don't know which we're going to get, so each show is different. But the tales (at least the six I saw) have in common a strong element of the macabre, and usually a good dose of humor too.

The cast, Cheek especially, are good at transforming themselves into a variety of twisted characters – an overly attached mom, a drunk bridesmaid, a creepy guy who lives under a pier – and the unrelatedness of the tales gives the evening something of the air of an exercise session. But the tales cast their spells effectively, plunging the audience into Chapman's often disturbing, sometimes sickening, and occasionally touching theme park of weirdness. We overuse the roller coaster analogy – for adventure movies and the like – but The Pumpkin Pie Show really is like a thrill ride, full of creepy delights, alternately tickling your brain and turning your stomach. You must be this tall to enter.

Thursdays through Saturdays through Nov. 1 at Under St. Marks, 94 St. Marks Place, NYC, with a special expanded performance on Halloween night. Get tickets online or call 212-868-4444.