Theater Review (NYC): Go-Go Killers!

Context-free, on a bare stage with a bright light shining in the audience's eyes, a young man and a young woman exchange secrets. He speaks in flamboyant metaphors.  She's charmingly down-to-earth. It's clever and amusing, then takes an unexpected, grim turn; the actors (the talented Joe Stipek and Kari Warchock) have us right in the palms of their love-sweaty hands.

Cut to young Eugene at home. It turns out he's a rich boy, attended by manacled female servants. Nelson, an avuncular friend, takes him in hand, the (deliberately?) bad acting begins, and Go-Go Killers! never recovers. There's no way to sugarcoat it: this is a terrible play, and director Rachel Klein, who did better work with All Kinds of Shifty Villains (another genre piece) last year, seems to have no idea what to do with it.

In and around a post-global-warming New York, rival girl gangs compete to murder the rich men who are enslaving their sisters. One gang captures Eugene and Nelson and drags them before the Queen, played by Leasen Almquist, in her underground lair.  Ms. Almquist is a pro, but utterly at sea in a role that's so nonsensical playwright Sean Gill has to have her explain it in a monologue. Along the way, the gang and their captives spend an interminable, poorly paced night quarreling, getting bitten by snakes, and alternately assaulting and making out with an offensively stereotyped fellow called The Wop who seems to have stuttered in from a completely different play. It's all very difficult to suffer through.

Ms. Klein is obviously drawn to stage works that play with the devices and customs of genre pictures and mannered theater traditions. With All Kinds of Shifty Villains it was noir films and circus clowning. Go-Go Killers! is meant to evoke a number of B-movie genres, especially girl-gang flicks and those manic movies that featured go-go boots and hot pants — all-American MST3K fare, in other words. This sort of thing can make for spectacular theater, as Soul Samurai proved a few months back.

But in this case, evoking is as much as the play can manage. Interspersing clumsy, overlong scenes with less-than-crackerjack go-go-inspired dance numbers does not automatically create a re-imagining, an homage, or even a parody. Those good-bad movies of yore had stories one could follow, silly though they might have been. They had bad acting, too, but the New York stage creates higher expectations than did low-budget films of the 1950s and 60s. Go-Go Killers! boasts some good dancers and nifty costumes, but little else.

Go-Go Killers! runs through May 23 at the Sage Theater, 711 Seventh Ave., NYC, through May 30. Tickets at Smarttix.

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