Created and Composed by Lauren Maul
Reviewer: Charlotte Lang-Bush
In the fluorescently-lit basement beneath the Judson Memorial Church, a chipper real estate agent holds a ghoulish flashlight under her chin as she chirps about the multiple gory murders that happened in the house she’s selling. Later, a group of gleeful schoolgirls put on an ingeniously sinister shadow-puppet show about Wolf Chain, a legendary monster, before the real thing emerges in the (hairy, horrifying, and luminescent) flesh. For a lesser show, these moments of morbid belly laughs would be climactic, but for “Bucolic,” these snapshots of menace and sweetness occur in the first ten minutes, and there’s even better still to come.
Visitors to the Nebraska depicted in Laurel Maul’s autobiographical musical Bucolic, now playing at Judson Memo
rial Church, are in for a gruesomely optimistic feast for the senses. Half News from Lake Woebegon, half Addams Family Values,” and served with a grinning dollop of “My Favorite Murder,” this hour-and-fifteen-minute musical is a good-natured stand-up act, strung together with deftly written and sung sketches of the playwright’s surprisingly macabre upbringing. While Maul’s hometown is the source of both the laughs and the shudders, it never feels like the citizens aren’t in on the joke.
The delicate balancing act Maul and her multiply-cast actors (particularly the standout Tim Girrbach as a ghoulishly wholesome dad describing a liquefying cadaver before asking to be passed the spaghetti) pull of between delightful and dreadful should be commended; in a particularly memorable song, a priest (played by the hilariously officious Michael Harren) crushes the dreams of a rebellious fourth grader (compassionately sung by Tahlia Robinson) by telling her that no, “there are no kittens in heaven,” pushing the child towards a hilarious final declaration of blasphemy that this review won’t spoil.
While three or four songs in the back half of the play do border on repetitive, or feel disconnected from the rest of the play as a whole, they’re all so short that it’s hard for any to truly sour, and the standouts (ten out of the fifteen total songs) really pack in the punchlines, outweighing any that might overstay their brief welcome. When the whole cast gathers to break the fourth wall by forming a car and contemplating leaving Nebraska in the finale, it’s a moment of genuinely earned poignancy and grace. Plus, every guest is given free scotch, animal crackers, and orange drink with admission. For the right gallows-humor aficionado, that’s all one could ever ask for in a night at the theatre.
Runs until May 24, 2019 | Photo by Lauren Maul