THEATER REVIEW: “The Toxic Avenger” by Roy Berko @ Blank Canvas Theatre

Through Thu 7/27

Blank Canvas has a niche audience. They love slasher, off-the-wall, ridiculous plotted plays, especially musicals. The nerdy group that calls this theater their home away from home, will find The Toxic Avenger well within their scope.

Yeah, this is The Toxic Avenger, the rock musical based on Michael Herz and Lloyd Kaufman’s 1984 cult film about the attempt of a sweet young man to clean up a New Jersey town, with death-filled results.

The musical, written by Joe DiPietro (who was born in Teaneck, New Jersey and was responsible for Memphis, All Shook Up and I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change), with music by David Bryan, and lyrics by the same duo, contains songs with titles such as, “Get the Geek,” “Kick Your Ass,” “Thank God She’s Blind” and the ever-popular “Bitch/Slut/Liar/Whore.” Really! (Could I make this up?)

If you are not a regular BC attender, before you come to the conclusion that The Toxic Avenger is a definite “do not see,” be aware that it’s impossible for anyone with a sense of humor, who likes outrageous slapstick, cross-dressing and soft rock music, and has an affinity for the bizarre, not to enjoy themselves.

So, what’s all the fun about?

Once upon a time in Tromaville, New Jersey, there was a corrupt mayor-lady (who resembles former-Governor Chris Christie in many ways), who, with her henchmen (bullies, mobsters and crooked politicians) controlled the city and used it as their personal piggybank, caring little for the environment or the population. In the same town was Melvin Ferd the Third, a geeky aspiring scientist, who loves Sarah, the blind librarian. Melvin wants to clean up the town’s toxic waste dump and also dump the mayor. For his troubles he is thrown into a vat of sludge and comes out a hulking green monster named “Toxie.”

Toxie becomes a superhero to many as he fights city hall and sleazy politicians and businessmen whose greed have made the correctly named Tromaville unfit for human inhabitation. In the process, the hysteria is flamed by the blind librarian tripping over every pebble and crack, men and women dressing in drag, lots of quick costume changes, and some bad puns. Also on stage is a singing and dancing nun, water cannons squirting the audience, a splatter zone where audience members get sprayed with water and other substances and, of course, Toxie, running wild. Oh, and there are some good zingers aimed at POTUS.

Add a wailing but subtle rock score, several nice ballads, fun attempts at coordinated dancing, extended farce and lots of slapstick, and you have The Toxic Avenger.

Patrick Ciamacco, the one-man crew at Blank Canvas — he directs, designs and builds sets, does special effects, makes the popcorn sold before and at intermission, while personally financing the whole shebang — adds to his chores for this show. He admirably plays Toxie, the lead role. The hulking hulk, he of green and molting skin and a hanging eyeball, has a powerful singing voice and great comic timing.

For this production Ciamacco relinquishes the directorial reigns to Molly Claassen, who does a smash-up job keeping the mayhem constantly moving and the creative juices flowing. It is amazing to see what the BC thespians do with little space, littler money, chutzpah and a lot of imagination. Musical Director Rachel Woods generally controls her players so that most of the dialogue and lyrics can be heard.

Noah Hrbek (White Dude) and Sydney Smith (Black Dudette) are a hoot as they change sexual orientations, accents and costumes with ease. “Hey, waddya tink,” dis is ‘posed to be fun an’ dees two helps-uh-lot.” Leslie Andrews, she of “zaftig” cleavage, makes the most of her assets (the physical and vocal ones) to create a nasty Mayor Babs. She also hits the stage as Ma Ferd and the nun. She even plays two people at once. Talk about being multi-talented.

Pat Miller is adorable as the love-struck Melvin, a man with a mission to save New Jersey from itself. Pretty Madeline Krucek stumbles around the stage as the blind Sarah, singing with a fine voice and nicely developing her role.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: The Toxic Avenger isn’t great theater, but it is lots of fun for those inclined to enjoy the bizarre and are willing to laugh at the slapstick shticks that make this production a wonderful summer escape.

The Toxic Avenger runs through Sat 7/27.  For tickets go to blankcanvastheatre.com/.

[Written by Roy Berko, member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle]

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