Dirty Pillows


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We descend the stairs into the basement of P.S. 122 and pass a message scribbled in red lipstick that reads “Carrie White burns in hell!!!” The folding chairs are already full, and latecomers sit on the floor in front of us, with only a narrow space between them and a gray wall stenciled in big block letters: BEAVERS. No, it’s not some high school pep rally or clandestine PTA meeting, it’s Theatre Couture’s production of Carrie. Before she burns in hell, we’ll witness Carrie get her first period in gym class, exploit her telekinetic powers, battle her wacko mom, go to the prom and (finally) get a bucket of pig’s blood poured on her—triggering her fiery revenge.


Except that it’s been 30 years since Sissey Spacek portrayed Stephen King’s iconic misunderstood teenager for the screen and nearly 20 since the notorious Broadway musical adaptation flopped, so Theatre Couture’s new adaptation of the classic (written by Erik Jackson) takes an overtly camp approach. First, Carrie is played by drag star Sherry Vine (aka Keith Levy)—who towers over her classmates, standing out as the freak of the bunch—and special effects include flying Tupperware and a papier maché pig courtesy of puppet master Basil Twist.

Despite its space constraints, the P.S. 122 basement theater feels like an inspired bit of luck with its institutional windows and depressing, dreary feel of high school. The witty script, which draws heavily from Brian De Palma’s 1976 film for parody material, and cast provide a steady stream of laugh fodder, but the chuckles feel hollow since, in this interpretation, the poignant quality of the film is absent—the very thing that originally made Carrie resound with misfits and outcasts. Carrie’s part is sorely underwritten and embellished with ironic one-lines that pop up during emotional moments to highlight that she’s being played by a man in drag (“I’ve never worn makeup before”) instead of relying on the inherent oddity of the story itself. The choice to downplay Carrie is a strange one, but at least her tormenters—Christine Hargensen (Kathy Searle), Norma Watson (Keri Meoni) and Sue Snell (Marnye Young)—are fully developed, and all three actresses manage to outshine Levy (even if he is in a dress).

Searle’s portrayal of Christine, the ringleader who schemes to ruin Carrie’s prom joy, is now the engaging, energetic heart of the production. Her part is developed to such an extent and is played with such unencumbered gusto that, by the time she achieves her moneyshot—Carrie covered in a bucket of sticky, red blood—Christine feels more like the creative genius to be celebrated, rather than the limp and whiney Carrie.

The attempt at all-out camp could have been helped further with more creative casting on the part of Margaret White—Carrie’s deranged, bible-thumping mother. As is, Kate Goehring does her damndest to instill the role with quirkiness, but I couldn’t help but imagine what a bearish man in a conservative frock would bring to the roll. Not only would it fit with the overall vibe, it’d also ratchet up the kookiness that comes to a simmer but never boils. Because, let’s face it, if you’re bound for flaming hell, you might as well use all your powers to make it scorch.

Through Dec. 30. P.S. 122, 150 1st Ave. (betw. 9th & 10th Sts.), 212-477-5288; Wed.-Sun. 7:30 (no show Dec. 24), $18.

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