Horror and theology seem like odd bedfellows, but playwright Shaeffer Nelson manages to integrate them comfortably into the tale of a serial cannibal – he usually kills his meals first – that meets two ladies who turn his life upside down. Author Nelson admits that he can spend a happy weekend with only a Bible and a copy of “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.” He described the play as “a perverse valentine to the under-acknowledged tenacity and cleverness of women in ministry.”
Directed by Roderick Menzies, MICE traces the journey of Mouseman (Kevin Comartin) as he interacts with two pastor’s wives he recently kidnapped – Grace (Heather Robinson) and Ayushi (Sharmila Devar). On the surface, MICE appears to be your typical “homicidal maniac cum cannibal” who is seeking fulfillment through killing and eating his female victims. However, on another level, writer Nelson has added some intriguing dynamics. Apparently, Mouseman targets Evangelical pastor’s middle-aged wives for lunch. When these two potential victims enter into a psychological duel with him, Mouseman may just find that he has bitten off more than he can chew. Literally.
The cast of three does an excellent job of depicting victimization, resistance, mind games, and turning the tables. The author’s personal struggles with his Evangelical upbringing in Kansas clearly offered a significant amount of fuel to this fiery tale. MICE warns of excesses – religious and otherwise – and how such excesses may lead individuals away from what their faith fundamentally espouses. And how religious fervor may become perverted and untenable.
Amanda Knehans’ shadowy scenic design is simple – but effective in drawing the audience into this dangerous space. A dark and dreary basement certainly suits this account to a tee. Ellen Monocroussos’ lighting, David Boman’s sound, and Michael Mullen’s costumes add just the right touch to the overall ambiance. Fight choreographer Mike Mahaffey deserves special kudos for bringing out the physical in this largely psychological narrative.
MICE will appeal to horror aficionados – especially in this Halloween season. But it will appeal even more to individuals who have been exposed to the many controversial discrepancies present in religion, differences between beliefs and behaviors. At times, MICE may become a bit preachy – but that might be expected in a dissection of conviction in all its forms.
MICE runs through November 5, 2017, with performances at 8 p.m. on Thursdays through Saturdays and at 4 p.m. on Sundays. The Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA is located in the Atwater Village Theatre Complex, 3269 Casitas Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90039. Tickets are $20 (seniors $17 and students $15). For information and reservations, call 818-839-1197 or go online.