We totally have strobe lights, so if you get migraines, take your meds now!" Thus a disembodied girl's voice warns us just before we plunge into Carrie's Facts of Life at One Eyed Jacks.
You can enjoy this cross-gender hellzapoppin' spoof without knowing who Carrie is or which 'Facts of Life" the title refers to. The show is another demented brainchild of Running With Scissors, the gang that's brought us a cornucopia of camp comedies over the years. If you're one of the group's many fans, you won't be disappointed.
The original Carrie was the movie based on a Stephen King novel about a high-school misfit who took violent revenge on her tormentors with the help of telekinetic powers. Facts of Life was an NBC sitcom about students and their housemother that ran from 1979 to 1988.
The setting for Carrie's Facts of Life is 'a delectable Friday morning in the spring of 1980 at the Eastland School for Girls and Effeminate Boys." As the show begins, the fussy, exasperated housemother, Mrs. Garrett (Bob Edes), tries to control her wayward charges and put a damper on their same-sex romantic impulses. Talk about herding cats! Joanna 'Jo" Polniaczek (Travis Acosta) is a tattooed tough who has won the heart of classmate Natalie Green (Lisa Picone). Blair Warner (Dorian Rush) is the self-important scion of a wealthy family. These are some of the felines that newcomer Carrie (Brad Caldwell) will be thrown to.
Margaret White (Brian Peterson) " a Bible-thumper who suffers from category-five evangelical rhapsodies " arrives at Eastland with her daughter Carrie in tow. Carrie's new classmates gang up on her immediately. 'We all just took a vote and decided to be disproportionately cruel to you because your mother is such a hag," they announce.
All the perplexities of teendom " particularly female teendom " swirl around the Eastland corridors in a distorted form: getting a first period, crushes, going all the way, and tooling around with a beau in a hot rod. Amid all these dangers and temptations, pious Margaret is determined to protect her daughter from 'the raven of sin." The first sin was intercourse, she scolds, and the punishment was the curse of blood " meaning menstruation, about which there's much teasing by the chorus of sadistic little scholars. When Momma feels she's getting nowhere with Carrie, she commands the girl back into the closet to pray (I take it that's a real, not metaphorical, closet).
There are gags aplenty, though sometimes you find yourself laughing without knowing quite what you're laughing at. Girls giggling in the shower together is funny (all the more so when they're actually boys in drag), but the punch line 'that's why there are no Wal-Marts in Afghanistan" seems to come out of left field.
Tensions mount on all fronts as the night of the prom arrives. Tootie (Donald Lewis) announces she's going one way or the other. 'As the only student of color, I've been ordered to go " or the place will look like a big loaf of Wonder Bread." Carrie agrees to go with Tommy Ross (Jack Long), but her mother throws fits and indulges in weird outbursts like banging her head against the wall in a desperate attempt to dissuade the girl. As Carrie sets off with Tommy, she decrees that she has a totally bad feeling about this. At the prom, the girls conspire to humiliate Carrie and she responds with a vengeance worthy of an otherworldly Genghis Khan.
That's the story in broad outline, but, as always, Running With Scissors throws in seemingly infinite diversions many poking fun at sex, conventional and every other kind. These little girls in their school uniforms are the shock troops of naughty nonsense.
Richard Read and Flynn De Marco conceived the show, then Read teamed up with Jack Long to write it. Brian Peterson gets credit for the costumes, wigs and one sassy puppet that Carrie slaughters gleefully when her boyfriend proves weakhearted.
Running With Scissors is not so much about acting as performing. The players enjoy themselves and create a jovial, permissive mood that draws the audience in. The cast has a solid comic sense. There is, perhaps, a disadvantage in spoofing stories that are already so over-the-top because the result is not only devoid of sentimentality but also of sentiment. That can make things feel a bit arbitrary. Still, Running With Scissors is a treasured, one-of-a-kind troupe, and Carrie is a fun show.
- Wonk Tootie (Donald Lewis) and Blair (Dorian Rush) prove high school really is hell in Carrie's Facts of Life.