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Liberating ‘Evil Dead’ revels in its vulgarity

I find it hard to believe anyone could see Off-Strip Productions/Ragtag Entertainment’s “Evil Dead: The Musical” and not have a good time. It’s full of half-dead humans that pop out of trees, hearty squirts of blood that spill into the audience, and slowly severed body parts. What’s not to like?

The plot — part “Blair Witch Project,” “Rocky Horror Show” and every zombie movie ever made — finds five college students squatting in an isolated, seemingly deserted cabin. We immediately notice something ominous: There’s a chain saw hanging on the wall, and somehow we know it’s not going to stay there.

The bad spirits start infecting the good, and the evening climaxes with a prolonged battle in which a housewares employee (Ben Stobber) summons up his courage and single-handedly battles an entire colony of baddies (aided by Sean Critchfield’s humorously brutal and realistic fight choreography).

Director Sirc Michaels and cast keep the energy pumped. When you laugh, you’re confident there’s a bigger joke just around the corner.

Luckily, Michaels doesn’t try to get by on just the broad comedy. First-rate talent abounds. Among them: Sarah Willick’s well-sung girlfriend, John Tomasello’s eerily believable redneck, and Stobber’s transformation from Everyman to action-adventure hero.

Stobber’s a tall, lean, attractive “ordinary” guy who has the gift of being able to put the audience on his side. There’s a scene in which one of his out-of-control hands tries to force him to do a hideous act. Stobber’s effort to stifle the hand, and his eventual severing of it, makes for a master moment of physical comedy. There’s not an ounce of fat in his performance.

Tim Burris’ surprisingly versatile set helps throw us into the middle of the action. The moment the curtain opens, you want to warn the characters to get out of there. The designer strikes a skillful balance in creating eye-catching atmosphere without calling excess attention to his work.

This is a minor script that has been kicking around since 2003. Its main appeal is gross-out and vulgarity; it’s as if the authors and director said, “Let’s do everything onstage that our drama teachers, ministers and parents said we must never do.” It’s liberating.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat @aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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