Wormwood, a Hardcover Theater production at Bryant Lake Bowl

Wormwood, which opened May 6, continues Hardcover Theater’s “less is more” approach to reducing potentially unwieldy stories to perfectly manageable ones, even on the Bryant-Lake Bowl’s tiny stage. The theater company has carved out a singular niche in this town, adapting relatively lesser known books (in the public domain) for live performance done in Hardcover’s particular style – that is to say writer and director, Steve Schroer’s, style.

Although this production didn’t have quite the snap and polish of last year’s She, Immortal Witch-Queen of the Lost World, it’s still a tight little show – stripped down but inventive technically, with a fast-paced pairing of dialogue and direct-address narration. The result is storytelling that clips along just slightly ahead of its audience, bringing us in on the conversation at just the right moments with an “I know what you’re thinking” line or musical button.

How, exactly, one would make a show with so much murder and mayhem funny is reason enough to go and see it. But let’s add this: there’s absinthe involved, and a Green Fairy. There’s music, too. Sort of. The music and lyrics are ridiculously lame, but it’s all part of the schtick, mostly delivered by Ricky Carlson deftly playing multiple roles without ever leaving his place at the keyboard.

Hand props were so inventively used that they, too, were a lesson in how to do really simple schtick and get the laugh – every time. I think Schroer more or less stays out of the way of the actors, and makes the whole thing work with flawless timing. Joey Ford was absolutely charming as the tortured protagonist, Gaston Beauvais, and Shad Cooper delivered a convincing absinthe-crazed, impoverished artist, one of two roles he played. Kristin Foster was such an alluring Green Fairy embodying the potential sociopath in anyone who succumbs to the power of drugs, according to the story’s perspective. It was certainly more believable than, say, Reefer Madness.

Everybody gets slammed in this one: the rich, priests, artists and uppity women. If there is a larger point it’s so sentimentalized, in that late 19th century way, that it’s, well, pointless. But it sure makes for fun entertainment – and you can even order an absinthe for yourself.

Wormwood runs through May 21. Be sure to check curtain time before you go.

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