The lights were dim, the alcohol was flowing and trouble was afoot.
So began the opening scene of “Sexy Evil Genius,” a new play brewed up from Asheville’s warped and wonderful Dark Horse Theatre collective.
“Dark Horse Theatre is my company, and I have a lot of roles actually,” said Emily McClain, the mastermind behind Dark Horse. “We have a guest director, Stephanie Hickling Beckman, from Different Strokes theater. I actually got Stephanie the rights to the show by calling the agent of the author, it was authorized and then I wrote the script for it.”
Based on a 2013 film of the same name starring Michelle Trachtenberg and Seth Green, theatrical adaptations of film are nothing new for the seven-year-old company.
“We tend to do dark comedy like “Heathers” and “The Last Supper,”” McClain said. “I look for stuff that has one set. This was set in a bar, and so it was made for that. It also just has to have a dark undercurrent of craziness.”
A theater major in college who ended up rebelling “because of the studying,” McClain reveals that Dark Horse’s slow but steady gallop started because of a dare in 2008.
“I was hanging out with friends at a lake house and somebody said that they would like to do Heathers on stage and I said, ‘I’m doing it,’” McClain said, “That being our first show, we had about 13 people. It was a ridiculous, huge cast of all my friends, so they were impossible to rein in.”
“Sexy Evil Genius,” their ninth production, is a demented treat to relish and enjoy, as it provides an chance to observe a series of amusing interactions between odd characters through the course of one drunken evening.
Beginning with tension-filled banter between a salesman and a free spirit, it is revealed they have both been asked by the same person, Nikki Franklin, to come to the bar. And yes, both characters are, it turns out, her exes.
Zac is the salesman, disgruntled by the fact that he’s at a bar drinking martinis stuffed with olives when he could be at home, eating dinner and not engaging in such precarious behavior. Miranda, a former junkie fiercely dressed in black, sips her absinthe with cool precision from the other end of the bar, taunting Zac’s white-collar lifestyle all the while.
At this point, Miranda reveals her knowledge that Nikki is also an alleged murderer and as they start discussing the periods in their life when they were together with Nicki, a third character appears.
Marvin Coolidge, a suave jazz man who is part of a group called the Re Bops, twirls his way into the bar, also revealing his past as Nikki’s former lover.
This is the only thing any of them really have in common.
Zac, a goody-two-shoes who vomited blueberry pancakes on Nikki’s shoes after prom, was her first boyfriend. Left in the dust because she deemed him too boring, Nikki later developed a heroin addiction and consequently, a relationship with the rough-and-tumble Miranda, who she met in rehab. Nikki’s relationship to Marvin, however, did not seem rooted in a seminal period in her life. Rather, it sounds like he is one of many recipients of her sprees of lust.
As they delve more into the timeframe and details of the story, the suited individual seated at the bar reveals their presence and what ensues is nothing short of mayhem and madness.
Desmond Zampella, an actor from Florida, discussed both the positives and pitfalls of playing Marvin, a character who ultimately had more of an impact on Nikki’s life than the audience is initially led to believe.
“I didn’t like that he was manipulative. You shouldn’t manipulate anybody into staying somewhere where they don’t want to be or manipulate them to do anything,” Zampella said. “But it was fun to play that type of person. On the stage, being this character, I can be all the cool things I’ve always wanted to be basically.”
Nathan Singer, a drama student at UNC Asheville, said he enjoyed bringing the shady and mysterious setting of the bar to life as stage manager.
“Steph directed our first show of the season at UNCA, “Dead Man’s Cell Phone,” and then she invited me to come stage-manage this show with her,” Singer said. “I’ve worked at NC Stage before as a director for one of their “Into the Woods” junior shows they did over the summer, and others at the Parkway Playhouse, so I’ve kind of just gradually moved out because I wanted experiences with a wider community.”
In addition to the Parkway Playhouse and Different Strokes, Dark Horse Theatre is just one of many companies that make up a vibrant and thriving theatrical scene in the Asheville area.
What is particularly special about “Sexy Evil Genius” and the members of Dark Horse is that they did not receive any compensation for their work.
“All of us have to do this for free and none of us are getting paid at all, which is very rare,” Singer said. “It was refreshing to go out and work with a bunch of people who were willing to go out and do theater just because they wanted to do theater and they weren’t getting anything in return. I was like, ‘Wow, there are artists! We’re not alone!’”
“Sexy Evil Genius” is running at the Bebe Theater every evening at 7:30 until April 11. Tickets are $13.