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Behind The Scenes: 'She-Rantulas From Outer Space In 3D'

Melinda Gilb and Phil Johnson star in She-Rantulas From Outer Space in 3D" at Diversionary Theatre.
Diversionary Theater
Melinda Gilb and Phil Johnson star in She-Rantulas From Outer Space in 3D" at Diversionary Theatre.

Diversionary Uses B-Horror Trappings To Explore Fear Of The Other

She-Rantulas From Outer Space

Diversionary Theater opened “She-Rantulas from Outer Space in 3D” on Halloween. But don’t be tricked by it’s B-movie trappings.

The title of Diversionary Theater's new play, 'She-Rantulas From Outer Space in 3D," sounds like the title of a cheesy 1950s B-horror flick along the lines of "Attack of the 50 Foot Woman" or "Tarantula."

"We kind of went for the most ridiculous title that we could and the play kind of progressed from the crazy title," actor and co-writer Phil Johnson said.

“She-Rantulas From Outer Space,” written by Phil Johnson and Ruff Yeager, makes its world premiere at Diversionary Theater. It taps into the B-movies of the fifties

"Lots of surprises and people get killed, women get killed a lot in this play mostly," Johnson added.

"I play six characters. I play all women and I get killed a lot," actress Melinda Gilb said.

"And a She-Rantula is involved," Yeager added.

A She-Rantula from Outer Space?

"Yes. The She-Rantula is kind of a ridiculous visual image that we’ve made it into, is really the holder of everything, everyone’s afraid about," Johnson said.

That’s because under the genre trappings of horror and science fiction these 50’s B-movies were often about fear of the unknown and the other.

"The idea of the other. Fear of the other, the B-horror films of the late fifties, that’s what they were concerned with communism, nuclear war, the power of women, and we wanted to write a farctire – a farce and a satire –based on fear of the other and we needed an other," Teager explained.

And “She-Rantulas From Outer Space” was born. For director and co-writer Ruff Yeager, the play reflects coming out for a gay man.

"It’s very much like being a She-Rantula. My family didn’t know what to do with me. I was some kind of freak and I knew that from a very early age. I knew that something was different about me and I tried to squelch that and push it down and the more I tried to push it down, the more I couldn’t push it down, my creativity, and so I was like Susie in our play, she’s a little lost girl who’s just misunderstood," Yeager said.

"I play little Susie and she is the daughter of Betty and she’s kind of the one who stirs the pot in this show and causes all sorts of trouble," actor Tony Houck said, "The dialogue is fun because I get to say an lot of sinister and creepy lines."

Precious little Susie is making a terrifying transformation into the deadly She-Rantula. But there’s another transformation going on behind the scenes.

In the dressing room, Johnson begins an hour-long process of transforming himself into Betty: "If I had like a trowel this make up would go on a lot faster."

Johnson shaved his arms and squeezed into some vivid Technicolor dresses to play Betty, Susie’s mom. Betty’s the perfect fifties housewife but she’s troubled by suppressed memories of an alien abduction that are starting to surface.

"I’m in the wrong skin and that’s evident almost immediately and then that keeps happening to characters in the play. So you’re in the wrong skin and you’re forced to deal with that skin, and that’s what blows up at the end of the play," Johnson said.

Just as Johnson puts on a female façade, the characters in the play maintain a façade of normalcy and social decorum.

"So it’s a time of like very, the whole play is very florid, it’s a lot of flowery language and they’ll say 10 words when they really mean two things. Really don’t like you," Johnson said.

"It’s very polite, a lot of please and thank you," Yeager added.

"It is very polite. Polite hatred is what we call it," Johnson said.

On the surface, the play is all B-horror movie but underneath it’s more of a Douglas Sirk melodrama that explores and indicts American society for its suffocating restrictiveness.

"The different person whether you were a person of color or you were an overweight person or a gay person or whatever, there’s something in our society that made you go over there, you weren’t one of us and what that does to a person, and how that shapes your life, that’s a real message I hope they get from it," Gilb said.

Audiences will not only get that message but they’ll get it delivered in some stunning party frocks and with an epic sense of fun.