Since its creation six years ago, Cherry Red Productions has brought to D.C. such plays as Cannibal Cheerleaders on Crack, Baked Baby and Zombies Attack! The local theater company is “dedicated to plays that appeal first to the body, then to the mind” and describes its members as “a no-good bunch of actors, directors and playwrights committed to delivering quality adult-oriented B-theatre,” according to the company’s Web site.
Cherry Red’s most recent release, Hellcab, is a wholly uncommon play. True, the performance features bare breasts and onstage cunnilingus complete with fake orgasm, but it is Hellcab’s humor and skillfully crafted dialogue that draws the most audience response.
The play follows an unnamed taxi driver (Craig Housnick), a 20-something rookie of Chicago’s classic Yellow Cab Company, through a day shift. Starting off on the wrong foot, as his car nearly refuses to start, he is pushed to his emotional breaking point as he encounters a wide array of colorful characters that embody both the best and worst of what the world has to offer.
For the most part, the scenes are sharp observations on members of contemporary society. The play focuses on the eccentricities of characters and the society’s double standards, such as a black cabdriver who refuses to pick up black customers. Hellcab’s writer, Will Kern, offers no simple solution to life’s problems, nor does he attempt to. Instead, Kern presents life as faithfully as possible, ending with an acceptance of life’s troubles while still sounding upbeat.
The play’s title and the menacing music that plays between scenes, is out of sync with the general mood of the piece. Hellcab has its fair share of dark moments, but not as many as the name leads the audience to believe. As in life itself, there is no separation of joy and sorrow for the characters, and passengers stir up a mixture of emotions during the few minutes they spend in the cab. In an example of the play’s ability to stir the emotions, an air-headed girl’s naivet? suddenly turns to empathy as her sometime-boyfriend speaks ill of her as soon as she gets out of the cab.
The cabbie, not exactly a stable force himself, serves as the play’s anchor as he appears in all 22 scenes. An ensemble cast of six actors fill the other 30 roles. The versatility of the Cherry Red actors shines in the play. If facial features did not give them away, there would be no way of knowing the lawyer from scene four is also the pregnant woman going through labor in scene 10 and the young hoochie in scene fourteen.
Hellcab misses the lowbrow aspirations of Cherry Red. Upcoming productions, such as Poona the Fuckdog and Other Plays for Children and Seven Deadly Dwarve s, judging by title alone, seem to hit nearer the mark. Audiences will get their answer next month, when Poona opens.