In Allston, a campy musical with trees that kill
When composer Andres Ramos met playwright Trip Venturella at a classical-music house party, they immediately clicked.
“Andres was interested in writing some whimsical music, and I was thinking about writing a campy horror musical,” says Venturella. “We thought by combining our efforts we could come up with a show that could fit the genre but also surprise people.”
Over the course of a weekend last year, the new writing partners hammered out the first draft of “Killer Maples: The Musical!” which will have its world premiere this weekend (for only four performances) at POP Allston, presented by Venturella’s new company, Yelling Man Theatre.
The three-character musical is set in a remote cabin in Vermont, where two people are trapped when the maple trees come alive and wreak their vengeance on humans. Six songs and scenes develop the story in a fast-paced, 75-minute show.
“It’s campy and absurd,” says director John Scala, who says the writing team is now on their 13th draft. “It’s Stephen King mixed with a classic boy-meets-girl romance.”
Scala says the play operates in two worlds: the cabin and a kind of jazzy club setting where a four-piece band, led by Ramos, will play.
“My job is to anchor the actors in specific moments so they can stay honest with the dialogue, and make sure the audience always knows where they are,” says Scala.
Venturella, who is heading to the Midwest for a graduate program in playwriting, says he had an outline of the way the story should go, but Ramos’s inventive compositions drove the direction of the plot.
“Andres wrote a lot of raw music,” says Venturella, “and then I would write a scene around it. We didn’t really know how it would end, until I heard song No. 5,” he says. “I wrote the words, and the song became ‘Family Tree,’ which wraps up the story on a higher theatrical level.”
Ramos, who is studying contemporary improvisation at New England Conservatory, says he was eager for the music to depart from the usual theatrical idioms. Members of the four-piece band (drawn from Ramos’s band, Nosy Mangabe) play oboe, mandolin, keyboard, and upright bass. “The oboe modulates more,” says Ramos. “It’s accessible, but also a little academic. It’s not what people are used to.”
Ramos hesitates to characterize the music for “Killer Maples,” saying he tries to create “a patchwork of musical styles that fit the mood of a particular scene.” But if he had to suggest a style, “progressive folk” might be the best description.
In addition to writing and producing, Venturella had to find an affordable venue for the performances. His day job as development and outreach director at Apollinaire Theatre Company in Chelsea has given him unique insight into production requirements, since he is supervising the build-out of that theater’s new spaces, but that project is in the midst of construction. When he learned that the three-story pop-up community space on Brighton Avenue run by POP Allston and managed by Allston Village Main Streets was interested in adding performances to its vintage market, gallery, yoga classes and community bike and skate events, Venturella jumped at the chance.
The second floor space is raw, and Venturella and his team had to figure out how to transform it into a theatrical setting. He borrowed risers from Apollinaire Theatre, brought in seats (the space will accommodate about 55 people seated on two sides of the stage), and plans on covering the windows with paper to keep the room dark. It’s simple, he says, but fits with his idea of asking audiences to invest in their imagination.
Scala says the set design’s simplicity and small playing space also fit the theatricality of the story.
“We have an ‘omnibox’ that serves as a couch, a workbench, a bed, and a maple sugar shack,” says Scala. “But there’s a ‘fourth wall’ irreverence that adds another level of humor and absurdity.”
Williams on the wild side
Don’t miss: Beau Jest Moving Theatre’s production of Tennessee Williams’s experimental play “The Remarkable Rooming House of Madame LeMonde” was one of the most fascinating, and unnerving, theater experiences of a few years ago. The play returns June 9-12 as part of Charlestown Working Theater’s and Beau Jest’s “Wild Williams” festival, which includes three surrealistic and visually provocative short plays by the playwright best known for “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “The Glass Menagerie.”
“Wild Williams” includes “The Remarkable Rooming House,” a dark comedy that explores the sinister side of rooming house life; “The Pronoun I,” a twisted fairy tale featuring a mad Queen Mary; and “Aimez-vous Ionesco?,” a piece in which two old friends reminisce and take advantage of the chance to take one more dance around the ballroom. Director Davis Robinson is a master at combining puppetry, movement, humor, and horror in what promises to be an unexpected look at Williams’s late work. Tickets are $20-$25. Go to www.charlestownworkingtheater.org.
KILLER MAPLES: THE MUSICAL!
Presented by Yelling Man Theatre. At POP Allston, 89 Brighton Ave., June 3-5. Tickets: $20, 617-684-5225, www.yellingmantheatre.com