Alligator-a-Phobia in 3-D! at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre Chomps on Our Anxieties
Reptiles replace COVID, climate fears, in surreal comedy on stage through April 16
Jay Eddy woke up from an early quarantine nightmare and wrote a play about the anxieties of our age: COVID, climate change, and fascism.
It’s called Alligator-a-Phobia in 3-D!
“It’s about the things that make you afraid to leave your house. It’s about the madness of the world we are living in right now,” says Eddy (GRS’23), a third-year student in the College of Arts & Sciences MFA playwriting program. “It’s a very playful investigation of a lot of really insane things.”
Alligator-a-Phobia in 3-D! views the terrors of our contemporary world through the filters of cheesy monster movies and slamming-door farce, all with a kind of dream logic. Playing now through April 16 at Boston Playwrights’ Theatre, the comedy with music closes out BPT’s 2022–23 season.
“This play really did start with a literal nightmare, sort of akin to Mary Shelley’s story of how she wrote Frankenstein,” says Eddy, who uses they/them pronouns.
“In the first year of the pandemic, when we were still leaving our house, very, very little, I had this wild nightmare of alligators getting into my house,” they say. “It’s in a dream, so it’s your house and it’s not your house, and it’s a million different houses, and the architecture doesn’t make sense. And every alligator that got in, I was closing it off behind a different door, until finally, you know, I’m trapped in the middle of the house, and all the doors are barricaded, and there’s alligators behind all of them.
“And then I woke up and sort of breathlessly turned to my partner and recounted my nightmare, and my partner just looked at me like, ‘Yeah, I think we’re all living that nightmare right now.’”
The hungry green reptiles are a metaphor, then, and there are a lot of them on stage.
“The gators themselves are so cool, and there are like a million different kinds,” says the play’s director, the mono-monikered Shamus (CFA’23).
The gators themselves are so cool, and there are like a million different kinds.
“We’ve got physical body gators, right?” says Shamus, who is earning a master’s degree in directing. “We have a guitar gator, riffing on the guitar through various scenes and bellowing. We also have puppet gators. And there’s hat pieces that are gators. And then we have this big, awesome cardboard gator. And we have some more fun, exciting ideas there that we still have to test out in the space.”
Major credit for the reptile horde, he says, goes to scenic designer and props artisan Ami Okazaki (CFA’23), who has overall responsibility for the gators and the dreamlike world of the play. The rest of the show’s designers are also School of Theatre-connected.
The setting is “a McMansion in Swamp-land,” where Happy, an unemployed poet played by Leah Kreitz, is setting up house with her partner Sweetness, an adventure photographer played by Katherine Perry. But there’s something very wrong with their neighborhood, which has more gators than you could shake a stick at.
Happy stops going outside. Sweetness begins to worry. Before long, those gators start biting. Like climate change and neo-fascism, the gators seem to threaten everything we hold dear, but not everyone takes the threat seriously, at least at first.
Happy and Sweetness are also visited by their friends Big Mack, an adventure writer played by Zach Fontanez, and Mack’s partner Teeny, a homemaker played by Sam Plattus. Fontanez, Plattus and the four members of the ensemble—School of Theatre undergraduates Maurie Moore (CFA’23), Kendall McShane (CFA’24), Ernesto Garrido Gonzalez (CFA’23) and Savannah Scott (CFA’25)—all play multiple roles, often involving green costuming and big teeth.
Among other things, the play answers the burning question: How do you get an alligator in an MRI machine? (Sedate it.)
Between the dream logic and the shifting set and the gators, it’s not an easy play to stage.
“What really excited me about the script,” says Shamus, “is that I was like, I don’t think anyone will ever produce it, because it feels impossible. That’s why I feel like this is a great one for us to pursue.”
He also directed BPT’s season opener, J. C. Pankratz’s Eat Your Young, another surreal and outdoorsy dark comedy in which Eddy played a counselor at a wilderness program for troubled youths. Nature got its own back there, too, in decidedly eerie fashion. But their acquaintance goes back to a Zoom class early in the pandemic.
“Personally for me, I have no interest in realism,” Shamus says. “Sometimes I think that realism is like actually the death of theater, because we’re trying to be something that we’re not. So, who else is down to play in these bizarre worlds that are being conjured in front of us—Jay.”
Did we mention Alligator-a-Phobia in 3-D! is also a musical, sort of? Eddy’s original songs for the show are sung and played on various instruments by the cast, a regular feature of the playwright’s work. The songs here, including “Don’t Fear the Gator,” tend to favor the swamp rock stylings of Tony Joe White, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Dr. John, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Red Bone.
“We have characters playing washboard,” says Eddy, “and usually when you’re playing washboard, you wear like, thimbles on your fingers, which isn’t super practical on stage, because you need something you can take on and off quickly, and that won’t fall off. So in previous shows where I used washboard, I glued cymbals to work gloves.
“But this time around, I ended up finding these gardening gloves that have claws attached to them that let you dig into the earth while you’re gardening. And they make the perfect sound on the washboard. They’re green, and they’ve got these big claws attached to them, and they have become one of our Gator character signifiers in the show.”