'Moose Murders' review: Revival of epically bad play

Director Steve Carl McCasland and Brittany Velotta star

Director Steve Carl McCasland and Brittany Velotta star in "Moose Murders" at the Connelly Theatre, East Village, Manhattan, through Feb. 10, 2013. (Credit: Samantha Mercado Tudda)

Sometimes a show can be so bad, it's good. Or at least unintentionally funny. Consider the brilliant conceit of Mel Brooks' "The Producers." A fraud to create an overinvested Broadway flop is thwarted only by the show's terribleness.

We suspect neither Arthur Bicknell, author of the legendary 1983 flop "Moose Murders" -- critics' choice for worst play ever -- nor Steven Carl McCasland, director of its self-conscious off Off-Broadway revival, suffers such delusions. "Moose Murders," despite revisions and an energetically earnest cast, continues to flop like the antlers on a cheap moose costume -- though it didn't close on opening night as it did 30 years ago.

A 26-year-old Dix Hills native, McCasland founded Beautiful Soup Theater Collective with a mission, he says, "to revisit lost works." He credits Noel Ruiz of Oakdale's CM Performing Arts Center for giving him his show-biz baptism in "Evita" at age 7.

Not all the shows McCasland revives are as notorious as "Moose Murders." Next up is "Rags," the nice-try musical by the respectable team of Stephen Schwartz, Charles Strouse and Joseph Stein.

"It's not all 'Let's laugh at the flop,' " McCasland says of his "Moose Murders" selection, while admitting, "It's not 'Hamlet.' "

Although Bicknell refers to Theodore Dreiser's "An American Tragedy" and the Elizabeth Taylor-Montgomery Clift movie "A Place in the Sun" in his mayhem of a play, the inspiration for "Moose Murders" is, according to the author, the moose itself -- an Adirondacks mascot. The play takes place in Wild Moose Lodge on Big Moose Lake. We encounter an ax-wielding faux moose. Moose-head trophies dot the walls of Dennis DelBene's set.

McCasland plays a blind singer who shares duets with his buxom wife, Snooks (Brittany Velotta). They're seeking a gig at the lodge but are dismissed by the dysfunctional Holloway clan, led by big mama Hedda (Anna Kirkland). Her obscenely clingy children are motivation enough for serial homicides, as are the nurse (Noelle Stewart) and her mummified charge, the all-but-late Mr. Holloway.

Clearly, Bicknell was going for farce -- the most difficult needle to thread in playwriting. Since spoilers require suspense, it spoils nothing to reveal the biggest laugh line in two-plus hours of occasional chortles: "Nelson managed to stay unconscious through all this. Should we envy him?"

I saw Charles Busch laugh. He and his muse in cross-dressing film-noir stage escapades, Julie Halston, were among the red-carpet celebs on opening night Wednesday. The author was a no-show.


WHAT "Moose Murders"

WHEN | WHERE 7 p.m. Friday, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday and Wednesday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Feb. 10, Connelly Theatre, 220 E. Fourth St., Manhattan

INFO $30, $25 students; showclix.com, 212-982-3995

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