The Double Bill of Death is a pairing of very different one act horror-comedies, very light on horror/suspense and with much less death than you’d expect.
It starts with Knife 2: The Re-Slashening, the all too familiar story of a group of unlikely Breakfast Clubbed friends going out into the mountainous woods where happens to live whatever manner of thing that intends to kill them. It’s a parody of a trope that itself is already a parody and is so self-aware of that fact that even in its parody it doesn’t try to add anything to its cardboard cut-out synopsis. From the opening moments of the characters introducing themselves as their stereotyped caricatures to the often stilted dialogue, the plot (as it were) tries to fuel itself on one run of jokes after another and being funny for funny’s sake without actually trying to drive on a grounded narrative or bring life to its characters.
In essence, Knife 2 has the feel of a poorly planned long-form improv show, with jokes coming fast and furious, some working, some not, but nothing building on or tying up what happened before. There’s a forgiveness for this that well done improv earns that a scripted show, with some planning and rehearsals under its belt, doesn’t get.
That said, Knife 2 did have a few clever jokes and nice moments. The sub-plot around the budding relationship between Taylor Efford’s Amy and Jon Dickey’s Tom was cutesy and overly awkward but was also sincere, relatable and well played by two actors with nice chemistry. And Kristine Shadid as Hannah, with a giant H emblazoned n her sweater, is pretty much the greatest thing ever. She was a boss and rightly refers to herself as everybody’s favourite character.
Basically, Knife 2 was like having bubblegum and donuts for dinner. Three days in a row. It may taste delish but you’re still left hungry for something with at least a tiny bit of substance.
Now, Night Rangers is a different can of beans altogether. This is the story of a pair of lady vampire hunters who pre-date Buffy by about 200 years. As they clean up their frontier county, they gain the attention of the ever-feared Queen of the Vampires.
With both plays having been written by the same playwright, Night Rangers contrasts Knife 2 and shows the power of honing in a story with a solid narrative and building comedy moments out of engaging character to create a much more enjoyable theatrical experience. It did suffer slightly from being a bit bloated here and there and so could use some tightening but was overall very enjoyable and showed a lot of promise.
The strength and beauty of Night Rangers comes from the wonderful characterization of the two Night Rangers themselves. I’ve said so before but I love Lydia Riding. Honestly, you put her in a show and I’ll be there without question. She always manages to bring so much of herself into her stage reality that you can’t avoid being drawn in to whatever it happens to be. Pairing her with Charlotte Weeks, who was also truly wonderful, was brilliance. The two characters were well-crafted, distinct, and had a strong camaraderie that carried the show forward in the way that was completely missing from Knife 2.
Additionally, the delightful Marissa Caldwell (who I feel has been in almost every horror-comedy ever produced in Ottawa) gives a commanding turn as the Queen of the Vampires and Paul J. Piekoszewski (also the playwright of both shows) managed just the right note as the Devil, a character that could easily have ended up way over the top.
The bottom line: If you’re into the genre (horror comedy) and theatre bracket (produced and presented by mostly theatre students) then you’ll probably have a pretty enjoyable time. Not to mention you’ll be supporting the laudable effort of independently produced theatre. Kudos to Morning Person Theatre just for taking the jump to put their work out there.
But that’s just my opinion and I’d love to know what you think. Did Knife 2 do it for you or was the blade too dull to be effective? Which of the two shows did you enjoy more? Join the discussion in the comments below and let me know what you think.
Morning Person Theatre’s Double Bill of Death runs for two more nights (Fri/Sat @ 8pm), plus one matinée (Sat @ 2pm) at Studio Leonard-Beaulne downtown. Details: https://www.facebook.com/events/439596789564886/