Archive for August 18th, 2019

Review – Death and Botany – Fifty-Five Kings at Camden Fringe Festival

August 18, 2019

I have a budding interest in necromancy thanks to all of the research I did on HP Lovecraft’s classic short story “The Thing on the Doorstep,” as translated into the genderswitched Asenath’s Tale. It’s fun to do necromancy on stage; you get to have actors playing multiple people inside the same body – something that doesn’t usually happen in the world of entertainment outside of the multiple retellings of The Parent Trap (and Big). But when I saw that Atticus Orsborn was doing a play on a wanna-be necromancer at the Camden Fringe festival, I was convinced to crawl out of my own show making hell and actually spend a night in the theater again. Death and Botany, hit me with your best shot!

The show started out with a heavy dose of spooky (not that a bit of “Bela Lugosi is Dead” is ever a bad choice), almost immediately going into a Satanic ritual that looked like it had been created with a bit of though aforehand. Fair enough, a little hair raising pleases most of the punters, but were we going to actually descend to that “anything related to the devil is inherently scary” low level of fright that frankly makes for flabby theater? Fear not! For nearly immediately it was made clear that our hero – or, well, perhaps “protagonist” – was really just not quite the master of the dark arts that he wished. And, true to the description, we were able to move a little sideways into reality (where, you know, necromancy is impossible, not that people might not try) and do a bit of dark comedy. Hurray!).

So … Eli (Osborn) is a young man with an obsession. He is obsessed with becoming a necromancer. To that end, he spends ages reading occult books in the local coffee shop (to the bemusement of barista Emma – Fran Hess) and going home and practicing ritual magic – and wearing a cape everywhere he goes. According to his mom, Nancy (Sonja Doubleday), he’s even managed to move out of the house, but due to his penchant for drying dead rats, he’s found himself thrown back into the arms of the family. This isn’t so great for Nancy, because some years after her husband Dean’s death, she’s finally started a romance with a handsome silver-haired gardener, Terry (Adam Templar). She’s afraid Eli might not like Terry – or, more likely, that Terry won’t want to date a woman who lives with a son who appears to be be crazy – or maybe even a psychopath. But it turns out, Terry wants to win Eli over … putting himself into a dangerous position.

The stakes for the play are raised fairly quickly when we are shown that Eli is not just a puffed up lunatic – he’s a puffed up lunatic who’s succeeded in raising the dead. Can he make friends with a single human being no … but wait, this must be qualified as “can he make friends with a single LIVING human being” because Eli has DEFINiTLY made inroad with, shall we say, the more corporeally challenged amongst us. And while it’s hysterically funny that he’s succeeded in incarnating a soul into a bonsai tree, with Eli’s problematic grounding in morals and ethics (not uncommon amongst necromancers, to be sure), the question of how he will use his powers becomes a presence that hovers over the stage. Eli has been written (and is played) most convincingly as a nerdy, not-connected guy with an inflated sense of self importance – and we, the audience, know that actually both Terry and Nancy might have something to genuinely fear. Sure, it’s charming that Eli misses his dad as much as he does … but there’s no doubts that having the powers he does with no counterbalancing morals is a dangerous situation.

Making this all more fun is the comic friendship that DOES develop between Eli and Elly and, let’s be honest, Templar’s fine turn as Terry (and a few other characters). Despite the story being so outlandish, the grounding that the four performers give it – including dismissive-to-disgusted Nancy – make the story even more compelling. In fact, the comedy got ratcheted up so high that I felt we were heading toward “Shaun of the Dead” territory – absolutely funny enough to keep me put, but scary enough for me to have no idea what would happen next. (Shockingly, the three people who snuck out of the auditorium about 2/3 of the way through ALL CAME BACK – a sight I had never seen!)

Overall, this is one of the best and most original horror plays I’ve ever seen, and I ended the evening feeling lucky I’d taken up the offer to review this show. With its flair for both comedy and believable horror, “Death and Botany” is a show I very much hope will be taking the stage again soon.

(This review is for a single night’s performance that took place on Friday, August 16, 2019.)

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