The Burbage Theatre Company shows that the teenage years of our lives are truly the horror years in their production of Doctor Cerebrus
After a brief absence from the local theater scene, the Burbage Theater Company returns with great fanfare in the form of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s play, Doctor Cerberus. Dr. Cerberus (Rico Lanni) is the television late night horror movie host of “Nightmare Theater.” Tortured teenager Franklin Robertson (Steven Dionne) worships the over-the-top character, and hopes to one day write sci-fi/horror fiction. But the world of Dr. Cerberus doesn’t just provide an escape for Franklin; it completely takes over his life. The play begins with the house set on fire, accidentally. What was Franklin watching? Firestarter, of course.
So, you thought your teenage years were a horror show? That’s exactly the point by Aguirre-Sacasa, but the message is delivered with creativity. It’s not difficult to identify with the struggles of teenage Franklin. Played with appropriate angst and intelligence by Dionne, Franklin has hopes and dreams far beyond his parents’ expectations. He also harbors a secret, and the only person who gives him any insight is quickly sent away. Franklin is teased unmercifully by his older jock-brother, Rodney (Andrew Iacovelli). Iacovelli is enthusiastically obnoxious and foul-mouthed. And then there’s the ongoing threat of nuclear annihilation as presented in the 1983 film, The Day After.
Aguirre-Sacasa and director, Alex Duckworth, give the story a very different incarnation with asides to the audience, creepy music, special lighting and marvelous performances by the cast. Erin Olson, as the over-bearing, overly-dramatic mom, gets the plumb part of dispatching the spine-chilling, maniacal laugh at the end of Act 1. Her performance is explosive.
Sean Carufel plays Franklin’s dad, who tries his best to keep the family on solid ground. Carufel is keenly comic as he drags his family to his Holy Grail of history, the King Tutankamen exhibit. Dad (Carufel) recites facts ad nauseum that don’t interest anyone else. It gives us a glimpse into what Franklin’s dad may have aspired to when he was young.
Director Duckworth says, “Some audiences are uncomfortable with music used to underscore.” But the music in this production is clearly an enhancement. The theme of horror movies is primary, so it seems logical since music is such an important part of a movie’s atmosphere.
Special kudos goes to Rico Lanni as the namesake Doctor Cerberus. Lanni emotes the right amount of camp as the late night movie host, both in and out of costume, so to speak. Lanni also plays several other characters who are only seen briefly, but are vital. Lanni presents a unique persona for each character.
Cerberus is the name of the three-headed dog that guards the entrance to the underworld in Greek mythology. He resides by the edge of the River Styx. But Cerberus doesn’t have to guide Franklin and his family into Hades. They’re already there.
Doctor Cerberus continues at the Artists’ Exchange at 50 Rolfe Square, Cranston, RI, April 17, 18, 19 and April 24, 25, 26. All performances at 8pm. For tickets and information please call 401-490-9475 or visit their website at artists-exchange.org.