Penned by local writer Jeffrey Wonderful, with music co-written by Private Mike Albano of Diamond Tuck, Chariots of Rubber is a great addition to the Portland stage this Halloween weekend. Wonderful co-founded the Rose City Rollers, a Portland-based roller derby team, and for a time was active in a monthly wrestling satire event called Portland Organic Wrestling, which may give you an idea of his influences.
Chariots debuted at Theater! Theatre! in late July to sold-out crowds and overflow seating. A second run at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center was equally successful and now it returns to Theater! Theatre! for a third run this weekend.
Set in Coos County, the musical follows the misadventures of childhood best friends Tommy and Crash (Jerud Moyer and Donny Don’t, respectively), and they live according to “The Code of the Bro,” which is one of the most memorable musical numbers in the show. They dream of someday winning the Coos County Crash Up, an annual demolition derby.
The music is great: 1980s metal with a dash of Rocky Horror Picture Show. The choreography done by Lisa Ventrella is spot-on. Narrative interludes provided by mock newscasts are hilarious. The absurdity of the script (at one point, a character announces that she has given a boy “zombie crabs”) provides consistent laughs, as does the overly macho relationship between Tommy and Crash. The plot device—a hood ornament that allows the person who wields it to reanimate the dead—is also a riot. So are the villains of the production, the Sisters Areola (Misti Icenbice and Lucinda Beth Thompson), twins who cut off their victims’ nipples and have fight scenes in haiku.
The difficulty with Chariots of Rubber is that, great music and concept aside, the show is very difficult to follow. Something was off about the acoustics in the theater, and large chunks of songs were nearly incomprehensible. Since the songs often give background information on characters or introduced them outright, it can be difficult to figure out who’s who. This difficulty is compounded by the fact that many of the women have similar costumes and roles.
The concept of the “Final Massacre” is difficult to follow, too, since it seems that zombies have been going strong in Coos County for years, and it’s closely linked to the annual derby event (how can a massacre be the final massacre if it happens annually?).
Despite the sequential problems, Chariots of Rubber is still a blast. It looks good, it sounds good and the special effects are killer: Watching blood spurt out of Tommy’s nipples after the Areola Sisters have ceremoniously removed them is definitely one of the best visuals on display at a Portland stage this year and is worth the price of entry.