By Thomas Stubbs, Staff Writer
On the surface, horror and comedy might seem like a strange couple, but the fact is they’re madly in love. No bump in the night can make itself fully felt without a well-timed sight gag to follow it. The pent-up anxiety and dread that the best horror instills in us is simply not complete without the feeling of release that a good laugh provides. Comedy is the sweet finish that not only helps the bitter taste of terror go down easier, but makes us glad we bought the drink in the first place.
The potency of this genre cocktail was on display most recently at the Furman Playhouse, where the crowd of thirsty patrons found “Kappa Kappa Scream,” a new play by Artist-in-Residence Randall David Cook, immensely satisfying. Laughter rolled in on the heels of gasps and the subtle creak of thoroughly creeped-out audience members shifting in their chairs. Through it all, there was an unmistakable feeling that hung in the air like the blue mists that occasionally blanketed the stage: every person in the house was unmistakably, irresistibly entertained.
“Kappa Kappa Scream” tells the story of a sorority pledge retreat gone supernaturally wrong. “Somewhere in the Carolinas,” according to the playbill, the leadership council of a Kappa Kappa Delta chapter arrive at a remote cabin owned by their president, Ashley (Sarah Cushman), just ahead of the new year’s pledge class. Little do they know that two unfortunate fraternity pledges (Chris Sessoms and Matt Middleton, unrecognizable beneath their clown make-up), lying in wait to scare the girls as per their frat-mandated assignment, have already been killed.
Anyone who’s ever seen a horror picture knows what will happen next: a mysterious force starts picking the girls off one by one, as an old Grandfather clock tolls the number of victims still to come. Throw in a couple of horndog fraternity brothers, a flashback recounting a sick deed the cabin bore witness to decades before and a demonic possession, and you’ve got a rollicking horror romp that, as one character observes, is “straight out of Stephen King.”
Thus, the “Scream” portion of the play’s title is supplied. The laughter comes from the “Kappa Kappa” part. The familiar horrorscape, brought to vivid life by the combined efforts of Scenic Designer Taylor Jensen, Lighting Designer Haley Brown and Sound Designer Dakota Adams, is populated by an ensemble of characters perfectly calibrated to mine the rich comic potential of college Greek life. As written by Randall David Cook and acted by the excellent cast, the characterizations of sorority sisters and fraternity brothers hits the sweet spot between reality and comic exaggeration. They’re caricatures, of course, but just barely, and the show is the better for that. Too far over the top and our heroes and heroines would have been insufferable; instead, they play straight to the truth behind every joke, to the delight of every college student in the audience. My favorite gag involved a trio of sorority pledges who, by virtue of all being named “Heather,” are treated by the rest of the cast as a single unit (at one point, after people have begun to disappear in earnest, a hysterical girl cries out: “I can’t find the Heathers! Where are the Heathers?!”).
Two weeks ago, I sat down with Randall David Cook to discuss his life, career and “Kappa Kappa Scream.” He explained that he was looking to write something that college students would really enjoy: “I was thinking about what a college student might like to see — I used to be one, you know. I wanted to write a play for you guys.”
By my reckoning, he succeeded. As we filed out of the playhouse following the show, I looked around at the faces of my fellow audience members. They all wore the telltale smiles of theatergoers who had genuinely enjoyed themselves. They say that nothing brings a smile to your face like seeing two people in love. If that’s the case, then horror and comedy are still going strong.