While the horror spoof has become its own successful movie genre, it’s really a treat to see similar antics onstage at the theater. There’s nothing like live actors, gushing, gloriously red fake blood and real laughs to make for an evening of exhilarating entertainment.
Such is the case with "Chemical Imbalance," an inventive, original comedy of horrors by Lauren Wilson presented by Precarious Theatre. Directed with panache by Matthew Graham Smith, the show is at the cozy Exit Theatre on Eddy Street through April 7.
As in Robert Louis Stevenson’s "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," this takeoff finds the finds main character experimenting with good and evil.
But here it’s in the setting of his own Victorian England parlor, where his transformation from meek to violent has seriously funny consequences, not only for himself but for all of the people in his circle: his sister, mother, would-be betrothed, servants and family friends.
The actors are having at least as much fun as the audience. In the title role, Gabriel Diamond moves from prim and proper to wild and crazed, particularly in his encounters with the young, identical Throckmortonshire sisters Calliope (the good one) and Penelope (her evil twin). Elizabeth Bullard is fantastic providing the contrast between the two, particularly with "bad seed" Penelope, whose blood provides the key ingredient for Dr. Jekyll’s experiments.
The girls’ mum, Lady Throckmortonshire, is played by Christian Cagigal with glee; also in drag (a brilliant touch) is Andrew Calabrese as the mad doctor’s mother, Euphoria Jekyll. Meanwhile, Jekyll’s sister Ambrosia (Erin Carter) is working diligently to marry him off to the encouraging, and rich, Miss Dewthistle (Hannah Knapp).
Yet Jekyll seems more interested in his science. He tells his confidant Xavier Utterson (Ben Dziuba) about his experiments, while the servants, played by Nicole Lungerhausen and Sarah Meyerhoff, nicely accommodate all the shenanigans.
The show’s clever economy and theatricality come across best in two great scenes. A dinner party has the characters sitting behind a table created simply when the servants hold each end of a long, stretched out piece of fabric.
Lighting designer David Robertson creates terrifically creepy shadows and effects, particularly when Jekyll first ingests his special potion.
Promotion for "Chemical Imbalance" promises "murder, mayhem and crumpets." Those are delivered, topped off with silly laughs.
Chemical Imbalance ***
Where: Exit Theatre, 156 Eddy St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays; closes April 7
Tickets: $15 to $30; pay-what-you-can Thursdays
Contact: (415) 563-5085 or www.precarioustheatre.com