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In a nation where media hype is stirring anxiety about a very difficult-to-catch virus into near-panic, it's good to laugh, and especially good to laugh at our own fears.

Theater Review (NYC): ‘The Pumpkin Pie Show: Seasick’ by Clay McLeod Chapman

Abe Goldfarb, Brian Silliman, Hanna Cheek & Clay McLeod Chapman - Pumpkin Pie Show
Abe Goldfarb, Brian Silliman, Hanna Cheek & Clay McLeod Chapman. Photo credit: KL Thomas

The latest in Clay McLeod Chapman‘s Pumpkin Pie Show theatrical storytelling series speaks to today’s prevailing condition of irrational semi-panic about the Ebola virus, whether intentionally or not.

Unlike some past Pumpkin Pie Show installments, Seasick presents a single narrative rather than a sequence of separate stories, or more precisely, a group of connected stories that combine to tell one dark, gross-out sasga of an E. Coli outbreak on a cruise ship humorously christened the Argonautica. Nightmarish plagues? Let’s laugh at ’em, the show suggests.

A histrionic father (Brian Silliman in gloriously histrionic mode) is leading his screechy wife (Hanna Cheek) and two kids on repeated trips to the buffet when the infection begins striking crew and passengers alike. Vignettes of the family’s ever-more-disgusting adventures moving about the ship alternate with ever-more-absurd yet somehow recognizable rants from the crew, including the captain (Chapman), Picardian at first but quick to reveal a bitter underbelly.

Kyle Jarrow provides music for a couple of clever mock-pop ballads that spice up the story, one of them an angry tour-de-force about a raging sea sung by a desperate substitute entertainment director (Hanna Cheek, fabulous as usual) desperate to keep the party going as passengers are vomit and die all around her. Another highlight is Abe Goldfarb’s magnetically over-the-top turn as a haughty French (or wannabe-French) chef furious at the low tastes of the American tourists he calls “walking waste-buckets of lard.” His symptoms of infection take a hallucinatory form, to highly amusing effect.

Katie Hartman portrays a supervisor at an indoor play space who finds herself trapped by zombie-like infected children. This character, angry like the others, is perhaps most fascinating of all, if occasionally hard to understand through Hartman’s intense, hissy delivery.

Amid all the humor, and there’s a lot of it, the dominant emotion in all these characters is anger, a boiling rage that directly contradicts the hyper-friendly welcome with which they greet arriving audience members. The contradiction is most explicit in the character of the entertainment director. Swept unprepared into the role by the illness of her supervisors, she is reduced to screaming at sick passengers trying to lure them to the karaoke mic. In a nation where media hype is stirring anxiety about a very difficult-to-catch virus into near-panic, it’s good to laugh, and especially good to laugh at our own fears.

The Pumpkin Pie Show: Seasick runs through November 1 at UNDER St. Marks. Tickets are available online or by calling 888-596-1027.

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About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is a Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at http://www.orenhope.com/ you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/ where he visits every park in New York City. And by night he's a part-time working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.

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