The latest edition of The Pumpkin Pie Show, Clay McLeod Chapman's pugilistic monologue series, may be the best one yet. Writer-actor Chapman, his ever-brilliant co-conspirator Hannah Cheek, and a fantastic newcomer named Hannah Timmons alternate in bringing us five tales. This time around, all the stories in one way or another concern kids, often victimized kids. Ranging from grotesquely disturbing to magically disturbing, some are more substantial than others but all hit their marks—like perfectly aimed gut punches.
Some of the pieces break the bounds of "mere" monology through sheer actorly brawn (and, sometimes, ghostly bits of dialogue). More than monologues, they're really plays compressed into concentrated essences of plays by Chapman's sharp writing and the actors' almost brutal skills. And they're rooted in real stories. A high school wrestler spreads his herpes infection through athletic leagues far and wide. A woman has virginity-restoring surgery to please her milquetoasty husband, with predictably gloomy results. A recently divorced special-ed teacher finds one of her teenage students a little too special. And those are the funnier, lighter pieces.
The most intense character is the penitent but unrehabilitated child molester Chapman plays in the number called "Diminishing Returns." This guy makes us practically jump out of our skins. And the most transportive piece is "Diary Debris," in which Timmons becomes the 11-year-old boy who finds, near his family's Texas home, among the debris of the Space Shuttle Columbia, the pages of a doomed Israeli astronaut's diary. It's in this nonviolent tale, where not much really happens and no one grows up and there are no shocking plot twists, that Chapman's genius shows its edge most brightly. And Timmons does a simply marvelous job bringing it out.
A final key element in this show's success is the evocative musical score by Radiotheatre. Much more than incidental music, it works like a top-notch movie score, alternately cradling and illuminating the action. It's just perfect.
The Pumpkin Pie Show: Amber Alert runs through Oct. 30 at the Red Room, 85 E. 4th St. in Manhattan. Don't miss it. Ticket information here or call SmartTix at 212-868-4444.
Photos of Clay McLeod Chapman and Hannah Cheek by Chris Smith.