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May 14, 2014

Theater: Hot body snatchers

‘Devil Boys From Beyond’ is a sci-fi laugh riot

‘Devil Boys From Beyond’
A Pandora Productions play. Written by Buddy Thomas and Kenneth Elliot. Directed by Lucas Adams. Continues through May 18 at the Henry Clay Theatre, 604 S. Third St. For tickets and info, go to pandoraprods.org.

The swamp town of Lizard Lick, Fla., is sweaty, old and ugly, and so are the people. But when an alien invasion transforms the aging men in the town into young hotties and their wives become pregnant, a team of feisty New York journalists head south to tackle the story. As town resident Florence Wexler (Jason Cooper) explains (after proclaiming she is not insane), “Everything is odd in Lizard Lick.”

This play feels exactly like a ’50s B-movie you’d find on the sci-fi channel at 3 in the morning, as director Lucas Adams explains was his intention, but with 10 times the comedy. Yes, it’s absurd and ridiculous, but the cast executes it with spot-on timing, commitment and grace, using their opportunities to sneak over the top just sparingly enough. I even saw this show on the industry’s dreaded “Second Night” — when the energy both onstage and in the audience has a tendency to suffer — but that appeared to have been dodged with ease.

Pandora Productions’ attention to detail always stands out to me. From Mike Slaton’s shaky hands and old-lady shuffle to the way the floor of the stage was painted, the technical elements and the direction of the actors are finely tuned. The use of silent moments and stage business by actors who aren’t the focus of the scene is carefully orchestrated, always giving the audience something to watch from the corner of their eye but never distracting. And as half the cast was in drag, plus two aliens, the makeup and costume team of Neill Robertson, Gerry Robertson, Donna Lawrence-Downs and Tunky Seccareccio should be applauded.

Cooper, who marches around the stage in fuchsia heels that have to be at least 8 inches tall, snatches the audience right up from the start of the show, and he and Slaton play a fun pair of kooky old Lizard Lick dwellers. As the dueling journalists Mattie Van Buren and Lucinda Marsh, Patrick Brophy and Michael J. Drury each adopt incredible physicality as females and have fantastic stage chemistry as nemeses.

As an alcoholic photographer with an explosive personality and a secret, Joe Hatfield gives a solid performance that both balances out the female journalist characters and often encourages their ridiculousness. Alex Craig portrays the typical sweaty, overworked newspaper editor Gilbert Wiatt, and while I understand why the authors might have felt the need to write in at least one dull character to reign in the chaos a bit, it seemed almost unfair in this piece, as he just wasn’t given much to play with — not even one little tragic flaw we could sadly giggle at once in a while. I respect Craig’s range and ability to pull back and not force a character into something he isn’t.

Finally, the Plutonians themselves, portrayed by Elias Feghaly and Jordan Lamb, reveal their reasons for taking over, and they may come as a surprise. Their whole demeanor is a bit surprising, and how it compares to that of the humans makes for interesting and necessary social commentary, which might have almost seemed like a plot twist if this weren’t a Pandora play. It doesn’t go terribly deep into it, just nudges itself to the next level right at the end, making for a delightful summer production.