Main Cast: Ben Hethcoat, Corsica Wilson
Director: Billy Ray Brewton
I am thrilled to announce that rehearsals have begun for my exciting new stage spectacular, a terribly modern adaptation of The Elixir of Love being produced by the one and only impresario DeWolfe. We’re planning on a soft opening here in Los Angeles in a few weeks, and then, after the kinks are all worked out, heading off to Broadway where I’m sure we’ll be the smash of the season. As we’re modernizing the work, the first thing that had to go was the title. Kids today don’t know what an elixir is unless it’s in a Harry Potter context. The working title is now Love Potion Number Ten as there was a copyright dispute over the use of Love Potion Number Nine. We’re also jettisoning all that old-fashioned Donizetti music for an entirely new score by Nigel Tufnel and David St. Hubbins. We’ve already got the first teaser poster designed. It’s me reclining on an enlarged electric guitar amp captioned ‘Vicki Lester’s turning it up to eleven in Love Potion Number Ten’. I just know it’s going to be a winner. There’s a nice little gouache of the DC skyline in the background, in keeping of our resetting of the story to our nation’s capital in modern times, in a hope to tap in to some of the Hamilton audience.
I had it put into my contract that the first act must end with a rousing tap number for my character, Dulcy Mary, the charlatan who comes to DC and brings together Senator Nemorino and Supreme Court justice Adina. We were having a hard time finding quite the right song for the moment until the boys reached into their trunk and found a little ditty entitled Smell the Glove. We’re doing a bit of a lyric tweak to Smell the Love and having it take place at the Tidal Basin during cherry blossom time with the chorines tapping up and down the aisles throwing heavily perfumed flowers into the house while I am showered with a virtual rain of pink petals all while doing a magnificent triple time step. The male chorus then enters as the Select House Committee on Romance and lifts me in a perfect arabesque while attaching me to a flying harness so I can zoom over the audience up to the top balcony, all while holding a high B flat and scattering more petals on the adoring audience below. I can hardly wait for staging rehearsals next week.
In the meantime, I’m working overtime with Lulu Pigg, my tap therapist, Madame Mimi, my vocal coach and Ms. Laurie, my rehearsal accompanist to get the numbers and the complex choreography down. My studio hasn’t seen such activity since that little contretemps with the ghost monkeys (who are apparently an enormous hit in Mumbai with their tribute to Hanuman. They’ve been held over for seven weeks). Normy has had to retreat to his studio where he’s working on a new orchestral fantasia using themes from the musical Hair. Late in the day when I felt like relaxing in the home theater, I asked him to join me for a film but he was busy on the Extension movement so I headed in alone with a large pitcher of sangria to see what was in my to view pile.
What I found was a screener of a soon to be released new psychological horror thriller entitled Show Yourself from writer/director and all around auteur Billy Ray Brewton. Mr. Brewton and I have had nodding acquaintance for some time and we were in talks at one point for me to play one of the title roles in a film version of his epic musical stage play, Skanks in a One-Horse Town but we decided that a lady of my taste and refinement could never convincingly play such a demimonde as he envisioned. Mr. Brewton, in recent years, has moved from being a bit of an enfant terrible and provocateur with stage works and short films to the world of genre features, Show Yourself being the first to achieve a major distribution deal.
The film is the story of Travis (Ben Hethcoat), a young Hollywood actor, whose friend Paul (Clancy McCartney) has committed suicide. Travis has decided to take Paul’s ashes with him to an isolated camp in the California mountains to grieve, come to terms with the death, and scatter the ashes. Being a good millennial, Travis has this smartphone and tablet and laptop full of photographic and film clip memories of Paul and stays in touch with this girlfriend (Corsica Wilson), the director of his upcoming film project (Stephen Cone) and other friends of his (Barak Hardley, David McElwee). All of these characters only appear in Skype and Face Time conversations or in video memories. While there, things start to go bump in the night and Travis starts to see things that make him think that perhaps Paul isn’t quite so dead. Is Paul’s ghost real or is it a figment of Travis’s imagination, brought about through feelings of guilt that he somehow had a role in his friend’s suicide?
Show Yourself begins with all the tropes of a 1980s-slasher film. Isolated woods setting. Crusty caretaker (Robert Longstreet). Disorienting camera moves. Classic pop music selections that slyly comment on the action. However, just when you think it’s going to become another variation on Friday the 13th, it reveals itself to be a psychological study of a young man confronting mortality and the conundrums of life, making it a much more interesting film than it would otherwise have been. The low budget prevents the use of expensive special effects and the film gets maximum mileage out of ordinary scares. A knock on the door when there should be no one there. The silhouette of a hand on the outside of a tent, trying to get in. Director Brewton turns his limitations into advantages as we must supply much of the detail from our own imaginations which is far creepier than anything we can be shown.
Show Yourself succeeds due to the talents of two people. The first is the performance of Ben Hethcoat in the central role. In many ways, it’s nearly a one-person film and it takes a talented actor to keep us interested and engaged in Travis’s long night’s journey into day and he is up to the challenge. We actually care what’s happening to him. The second is writer/director Brewton. He has a knack for dialogue that sounds like the way people really talk to each other, mixing humor and poignancy together in perfectly proportioned amounts. Brewton is equally assured behind the camera, showing a knowledge of film technique far in advance of his years and credits. If there is one serious flaw in the film, it’s that the climax and catharsis are not as strong as I would have wished. In some ways, the film peters out in its last act. I’m perfectly happy with the somewhat elliptical storytelling (not all is explained in words of one syllable for the audience) but I would have liked something a bit stronger in the final confrontation but the pulled punches may be deliberate as that’s the way life really works.
It’s a much better film than the usual low budget horror film and worth seeking out when it comes to a theater or streaming service near you.
Whiskey drinking. Forest pond swimming. New Delhi memories. Low battery. Scattered cremains. Eyebrow shaving. Script study.
photo by Fjmustak