Here’s what you get with a Late Night Theatre show: (a) a rowdy, engaged audience; (b) frequent ad-libs (part of the fun is trying to figure out which are scripted and which are real); (c) actors cracking themselves up (some of that is scripted, too); and (d) a special appearance by a “guest star” at each performance.
At the opening night performance of “Poultry-Geist” on Friday, the guest performer was Helena K. Cosentino, and she generated several minutes of focused lunacy and the comedic highlight of a typically chaotic Late Night production.
Late Night founder Ron Megee says that there’s a waiting list of guest stars and that the regular cast members never know what the guest actor has in mind. On Friday, Cosentino took the stage costumed as Little Orphan Annie, a cigarette dangling from her lips, and sang a parody of “Tomorrow” in the persona of an actress who once played the role but is now about to turn 40.
Before she departed she passed an enormous cardboard box of fried chicken through the audience, inviting people to grab drumsticks to munch on. You could see the other actors — most of them, anyway — laughing (or trying not to laugh) at Cosentino’s antics.
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The show’s point of departure is the 1982 movie “Poltergeist,” about a suburban family terrorized by ancient subterranean spirits who somehow gain access to the here and now through a TV set. In this version, it seems the subdivision was built on the ruins of a Tyson processing plant, and the family is tormented by the ghosts of dead chickens.
Jessica Dressler, who co-wrote the script with Megee, plays little Carol Ann, who first makes contact with the spirit world through an enormous television screen. (Dressler re-appears in Act 2 as Tangina, the medium who cracks the case.) Megee plays Dianne, Carol Ann’s distraught mom, and Shannon Michalski plays Steven, the dad. Ashley Otis, wearing an enormous set of buck teeth, is Robbie, the little brother, and Ray Fry appears as Dana, the sister. In Act 2, Michalski, Otis and Fry all show up in “Ghostbuster” costumes.
In the early part of the Friday show some of the dialogue was overwhelmed by the blast of an air-conditioner, and some of the primitive “special effects” needed manual help from the actors (although, this being a Late Night show, the onstage screw-ups could have been scripted.)
Jon Fulton Adams’ costumes are fabulous — detailed and often communicating visual jokes — but he outdid himself with the enormous chicken that takes the stage during the show’s final confrontation.
The measure of a Late Night show is basic: Did you laugh? The audience certainly did. So did I.
“Poultry-Geist” runs through Nov. 16 at Missie B’s, 805 W. 39th St. For tickets call 816-235-6222.