Clay McLeod Chapman is back! The master of Lower East Side domestic horror is once again bringing his particular style to the stage with his annual Pumpkin Pie Show. If you haven’t seen one of these before, Clay and his ensemble tell stories to us which seemed very familiar, yet are disrupted by a twisted take on them. Last year, they focused on the whole process of birth and fatherhood. I went to that show with low expectations and ended up enjoying the incredible storytelling techniques this group possesses. So when I was invited to review this year’s iteration, I was ecstatic. Last year’s surprise became this year’s sought out event, and when I found out that it was based on the political season, well, the hype just grew. Which ultimately could be detrimental, but not for this. “The Pumpkin Pie Show: Stump Speeches” did not disappoint, yet it did not reach the eternal appeal of last year’s Pumpkin Pie Show.
The timeless nature of “Labor Pains” could not be found in this one, and it had nothing to do with the show itself, but its theme. Pregnancy, fatherhood, birth — these are universal subjects the majority of people are familiar with. If not by experiencing, by seeing others go through it. We watched last year in horror as the stories about this natural event were turning into scary tales in front of us. This year, we see our political climate on display and become darker than it really is. The work put on by Chapman is as strong as last year’s show, creating a comfort zone which he can tear apart and put his signature terror in it. This accomplishes making an already tense election year, moving into the horror genre and just heightening the candidates’ personas and actions. While the stories are fictional, they don’t seem that far fetched until the twists. Chapman manages to use the real fear and suspense of this election season to mold a comedic, yet uncomfortable piece of theater that hits very close to home. It might not be as timeless as “Labor Pains,” but it is as relevant for the now and sometimes the now is what counts.
The show structure works perfectly for what they wanted. Using two of the cast members as the commentators brought a spice to the usual debate proceedings. This also provides most of the comedy. There was also two scenes in between debate responses that were true to the genre. While the main part of the show is the debate, it’s these two stories that really got to me. Specifically the second one, about a protester getting ripped apart by an insane mob seeking justice. It hit me the most, because we can truly see it happening in our current societal landscape. Between all the laughs, moments like that one remind us about the severity of fanaticism. The debate itself was a rambunctious mess I couldn’t stop laughing at.
Chapman and company have gifted us with the Pumpkin Pie Show now for almost two decades and this year they brought an important show. One that mirrors our candidates and shows their real faces to us, even if the characters are not them, per se. “Labor Pains” was a timeless piece that will be with me the day I have a child, but “Stump Speeches” got more under my skin. Maybe because I haven’t experienced fatherhood, but I have experienced this presidential candidate. Either way, CHAPMAN did it again!
Out of 4 stars:
Twisted Talk: Have you ever seen a Pumpkin Pie Show before? What do you think of this year’s election? Discuss below!