There aren't many mortals who would dare integrate the cheese-tastic 1986 song Somewhere Out There into a wacky, off-color narrative about a pop culture-savvy creature who falls for a 37-year-old virgin. Well, maybe if Roger Corman or the Troma pranksters remade An American Tail with a psychotic but still lovable Fievel.
But when talking about local theater, playwright Matt Lyle is the man for this job. Even when he is reveling in off-color humor and minor gore, he always reveals a sweet, romantic side.
Lyle and his wife Kim moved to Chicago last year, but the writer who gave us 2007's brilliant The Boxer continues to have his work produced here. Audacity Theatre Lab opened the world premiere of his Hello Human Female at the Ochre House in Exposition Park last week. The space is teensy (and not a thrill for anyone wanting easy parking), but it's also perfect for low-budget performance. In this case, that's not a dig at Audacity's lack of funds. It's in praise of the ingenious ways Lyle and director Brad McEntire use simplistic costumes, set pieces and props—plush toy cats that might have been pulled from a Goodwill drop box!—to achieve stylishly cheap B-movie effects.
Hello Human Female sets up its story with evil Dr. Gorn (Jeremy Whiteker) looking for love on Match.com. In truth, he's searching for a virgin in which to sow the seeds for a race of yak-bee-human thingies. He e-matches with the lovely Tamela (Arianna Movassagh, whose Kewpie doll adorableness makes her perfect for the role). When she arrives at his pad for the face-to-face, she becomes smitten with Blork (Jeff Swearingen), an Igor type who was stitched together from the remains of 35 people. Despite the fact that his brain is in the jar (but not the empty jar that just happens to be in his head), Blork is an oddly charming creature who speaks in Facebook status update-style, but iffier on agreement and tense.
"Blork have mish-mashed legs," he might say. Or, in one of the show's more hilarious of many funny pop culture references, "kiss Blork's grits" at the mention of the TV show Alice.
Sounds like an amusing enough premise for a comedy sketch. But Lyle stretches it into a longer thread, and amazingly sustains it. Tamela brings Blork home, where her tyrannical mother (Whiteker, in a funny drag performance) attempts to break up the two by sending Blork on a solo adventure. On that journey, he befriends the philosophical Homeless Harry (Scott Milligan), an ignored boy named Timmy (Becca Shivers, in another comic triumph for her and the show) and Timmy's grandfather (Milligan). Each of these satellite characters has stories, but instead of baldly laying these out, Lyle drops their psychological profiles into casual dialogue or the occasional short monologue, such as when Gramps speaks of his deceased wife while whittling a log into a toothpick.
Just like the patchwork quilt of humanity called Blork (and the 35 people who died, ahem, so that he could be born at an evil scientist convention), Hello Human Female gives us a touching look at the human condition. It's somehow poignant, even in the midst of the kind of wonderfully silly comedy that can be traced from the Marx Brothers to Mel Brooks to the Zucker Brothers and beyond. Some of the gags are recycled from famous comedy routines, but are still fresh and hysterical. No need to spoil them here.
At the heart of all this is Swearingen, who has time and again proven his prowess with physical comedy and spot-on line delivery. He goes above and beyond here, morphing a monster into a character that even the most cynical human would want to take home and feed a bowl of soup.
There's bound to be a Blork for everyone. Somewhere out there.