Joe West’s The­ater of Death IV: In­va­sion!

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Joe West’s The­ater of Death VI: In­va­sion! En­gine House The­atre in Madrid, Nov. 1

Spend­ing the evening in the for­mer min­ing town of Madrid is less of a cutesy tourist ex­pe­ri­ence than it is to­tal im­mer­sion in an off-kil­ter cul­ture of icon­o­clas­tic artists, dyed-in-the-wool hip­pies, and fron­tier toughs. The an­nual Hal­loween tra­di­tion of Joe West’s The­ater of Death may just epit­o­mize what the once-aban­doned ghost town is all about. Joe West’s The­ater of Death IV: In­va­sion!, which ran from Oct. 26 through Nov. 4, is old-fash­ioned com­mu­nity the­ater in its most joy­ous form — homegrown and ut­terly un­pre­ten­tious. West, a well-known lo­cal mu­si­cian, is the writer and di­rec­tor of a col­lec­tion of three sci­ence-fic­tion playlets that fea­ture a multi­gen­er­a­tional cast of lo­cals from Madrid and North­ern New Mex­ico act­ing their earnest hearts out in the rugged yet homey En­gine House The­atre, which is made largely of cor­ru­gated tin and into which au­di­ence mem­bers are wel­come to bring their drinks from the Mine Shaft Tav­ern next door.

The three short plays are united by an ex­trater­res­trial race of alien be­ings out­fit­ted in sil­ver body­suits, each sport­ing one eye in the cen­ter of her face. In “The Alien Baby,” Clara (Teresa Finley) has given birth to some­thing blue that is scar­ing the doc­tor and nurses but that she be­lieves will save the hu­man race. In the stand­out story of the pro­duc­tion, “Death by Crys­tal Egg,” Todd An­der­son and An­drew Wice play two ver­sions of the same stoner Viet­nam vet named Johnny, who stum­bles across a por­ta­ble por­tal to an­other world while dump­ster div­ing. An in­ter­lude called “Got Milk,” writ­ten by Ti­mothy Wil­lis and star­ring Steven Shep­pard, fea­tures a cow be­ing ab­ducted by a fly­ing saucer. The fi­nal seg­ment, “Ver­dict from Space,” which West adapted from the writ­ings of Theodore Stur­geon (1918-1985), was the only weak spot of the evening, due to an overly ex­pos­i­tory script and an en­er­getic but tough-to-fol­low per­for­mance by the­ater new­comer Den­nis Pet­tas as Pro­fes­sor Sykes. Pet­tas used a thick, in­de­ter­mi­nately Euro­pean ac­cent while try­ing to lead the hap­less Gor­don Kemp (An­der­son) to an alien cave and some sort of “beau­ti­ful ma­chine.”

The­ater of Death is styled in the tra­di­tion of the fright fest known as the Grand Guig­nol, which orig­i­nated in Paris in the late 19th cen­tury. West’s ver­sion is also rem­i­nis­cent of Mys­tery Sci­ence The­ater 3000 ,a show that first ap­peared on ba­sic ca­ble in the late 1980s, in which a man and his robot bud­dies watch and com­ment upon so-bad-they’re-good sci­ence fic­tion movies. Though The­ater of Death isn’t call-and-re­sponse on the level of the cult clas­sic The Rocky Hor­ror Pic­ture Show (1975) — to which au­di­ence mem­bers bring props and yell mem­o­rized phrases at the screen — there is some back and forth with West dur­ing mu­si­cal num­bers.

The most im­pres­sive as­pect of The­ater of Death IV: In­va­sion! is the in­no­va­tive stag­ing that in­cor­po­rates the­ater com­bat, spe­cial ef­fects, and pup­petry, as well as rous­ing, amusing mu­si­cal ac­com­pa­ni­ment by West, Tim “Slim” Arnold, and Lance Highers. Even though ev­ery­one dies in the end, is a whole lot of campy fun. — Jen­nifer Levin

Elle La Guardia, Teresa Finley, and Denise Lord

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