Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The Exorcist Has No Legs
If you've never seen the film, or need a refresher, here is a brief plot synopsis: Twelve-year-old Regan MacNeil has been exhibiting erratic behavior which causes her mother Chris to seek help. Doctors and psychiatrists can't seem to find out what's wrong with Regan and when she begins to shout obscenities, speak in Latin, show superior strength, and pee in the middle of a dinner party, it seems that she is possessed by a demon and that an exorcism is the only solution. Enter Father Karras, a priest with issues of his own, and Father Merrin, with some firsthand experience with exorcisms, who work together to attempt to drive the demon out of Regan.
McNamara adapted and directed The Exorcist Has No Legs and, as in past All Puppet Players productions, he includes plenty of actual dialogue from the film as well as reenactments of many of the film's most memorable moments. Just about every classic scene is dramatized; the only ones missing are a few where film "close-ups" would be necessary, plus a few characters from the film have been eliminated in order to expedite the plot. McNamara also includes a few funny, modern references to current people in the news: Donald Trump, Mike Huckabee, and Bill Cosby, and adds in Dr. Oz as a character. Not everything works, including a few bits or scenes that run just a bit too long. But, surprisingly for a comedy spoof, the serious and spooky moments of the play actually succeed exceptionally well and hold their own alongside the funnier moments.
The cast is composed of six actors who have appeared in past All Puppet Players productions, plus one newcomer to the group. McNamara plays Karras, the largest part in the play, and he shows how good of an actor he is. While he gets plenty of laughs from his jokes, McNamara actually makes you sympathize with Karras as well. Anna Katen and Brianna Funk are Chris and Regan, and while Katen is appropriately concerned as the worried mother, Funk is simply hilarious as the demonic child. Zack Funk plays Merrin and a few smaller roles and brings a stoic sense to the older priest. David Chorley is appropriately sassy as Sharon, the housekeeper, and Tanner J. Stuff gets some nice laughs in a couple of smaller parts. Nathan Spector, the sole new actor to the All Puppet Players family, is uncanny with the voice he uses for Karras' motherit is almost identical to the one in the film. The scenes he shares with McNamara as Karras are touching in how they portray the deep mother and son relationship they have but also comical in the humorous bits they add. There is plenty of ad-libbing throughout and Spector has no problem holding his own against the more experienced group of actors, with them all succeeding in adding a few bits of humorous spontaneity and plenty of chuckles to the play.
The minimal set pieces mean that scene changes are quick, and nothing is really missed with the lack of any large drops or flats. Clare Burnett's lighting is simple yet effective and when her design combines with McNamara's sound effects they elevate the possession and exorcism scenes to major highlights, adding a bit of spookiness to the almost non-stop comic moments.
While a few of the jokes don't land and a few scenes run on a bit too long, there are many things that do work and, with a talented cast, The Exorcist Has No Legs ends up being a funny spoof, and a fairly faithful adaptation, of one of the scariest movies ever made.
All Puppet Players' production of The Exorcist Has No Legs runs through October 30th, 2015 at Playhouse on the Park, 1850 N. Central Avenue, in Phoenix. Tickets can be purchased at www.allpuppetplayers.com or by calling 602.254.2151
Loosely Adapted, Produced and Directed by Shaun Michael McNamara