It is a testament to Stephen King how easily his sad, horrific novel Carrie, the high school drama about alienation and revenge, lends itself to humor in the Theater Couture's delightful and campy new production, now playing to sold-out audiences at Performance Space 122. Carefully and lovingly adapted by Erik Jackson, Carrie transfers all the big moments to the stage as it retells the familiar tale of Carrie White. A teenage girl full of naïveté—thanks to the hysterical religious devotion of her mother, Margaret—she has always been an outcast in school. But things take a turn for the worse during her senior year, when she gets her period for the first time.
Oblivious to what menstruation is, Carrie very publicly freaks out in front of several of the school's more popular and influential girls: Sue Snell (Marnye Young), ditzy Norma Watson (Keri Meoni), and bad girl Christine Hargensen (Kathy Searle). They proceed to savagely malign her, much to the consternation of Miss Gardner (Danielle Skraastad), a physical education instructor of ambiguous sexual orientation. But unlike the novel and Brian De Palma's 1976 film adaptation, these scenes are now funny, as when we glimpse the silhouettes of the girls showering to Foreigner's song "Hot Blooded."
And, of course, there is the fact that Carrie herself is played by Sherry Vine, aka Keith Levy, a cross-dressing performer who is the co-artistic director of Theater Couture. Clearly, this Carrie is more fun than the dramatic musical that became one of Broadway's biggest flops two decades ago.
Vine gives a delicious turn as Carrie, who discovers that her telekinetic powers allow her emotions to move objects—which, in this production, includes a bong sitting on the principal's desk. Jackson has made one noticeable change in his adaptation: having Sue narrate the plot's events in front of an unseen investigative committee, making Young as much of a lead as Vine is. Both are terrific, though, with an excellent sense of comic timing. Vine has a particularly great time playing the ignorant-victim aspect of Carrie's personality, but Young's efforts should not be overlooked; the enthusiasm she brings to every scene is invaluable.
When Miss Gardner bans Christine from attending the prom, Christine lures her boyfriend Billy Nolan (a terrific Rafi Silver) into planning a brutal act of revenge against Carrie, one with disastrous consequences that Jackson and director Josh Rosenzweig play for laughs. Jackson also added details that the film, the major blueprint for the show, left out, including how Christine and Billy get their hands on the pig's blood and why Sue's boyfriend, Tommy Ross (Matthew Wilkas), agrees to ask Carrie to the prom. Wilkas, in addition to Meoni, Searle, and Skraastad, all make the most of their roles, and it's clear they are having a ball playing them.
Rosenzweig also makes the best possible use of his small stage, which at various times serves as high school locker room, hallway, and auditorium, as well as the bedrooms of Carrie and Sue. He does not display the same economy, however, with the show's running time, which, at almost two hours and 20 minutes, is a half-hour longer than the film. It might be a wise idea to trim a few early scenes and drop an intermission, as the show moves so fluidly that one hardly needs a break from the action.
Of course, Carrie culminates in its famous prom sequence. I was curious to see how Rosenzweig would be able to revive many of the effects, and he has found ingenious ways to do so in minimalist fashion. But I won't give any of them away. Audiences will have to see for themselves.