Thomas E. Cole's spoof of B-grade science-fiction movies, "I Married a Fly," is an extremely entertaining play, but under its comic, schlocky veneer it raises some serious issues.
These stem from an unusual, highly publicized event in the playwright's family history. Nine years ago, his 43-year-old mother suffered a massive stroke and lapsed into a coma. In keeping with her previously stated wishes, her family petitioned the court to have life support systems removed. Six days after the petition was denied, she awoke from the coma -- alert, though somewhat changed.
A less-creative writer might have treated this traumatic, complex story as a docudrama. But the approach chosen by this local, first-time playwright is far more original, stylish, even funny. It's also deceptively simple.
On the surface, "I Married a Fly" -- receiving its world premiere in a slick production by the Impossible Industrial Action Company at the Theatre Project -- is merely a send-up of such 1950s horror classics as "I Married a Monster from Outer Space" and, of course, "The Fly."
The story is told from the viewpoint of a happily married housewife named Alexandra (portrayed with TV-commercial perkiness by Donna Sherman), whose scientist husband, John (an earnest Lance Irwin), exposes himself to experimental "fly radiation." The following morning, when Alexandra tries to wake him up, she discovers he has turned into a larva.
Soon John emerges as a human-sized fly, capable of communicating not only with other insects, but also with people -- thanks to a handy translation device he invented before his transformation.
John's boss -- played by Mark Redfield with a thick Transylvanian accent and the menacing glee of a mad scientist -- is delighted by the change in his employee. John's wife, however, becomes increasingly concerned that this change is not only physical, but also is affecting her husband's mind and emotions -- the core of his humanity.
The script is unabashedly hokey -- down to a subplot about a communist threat. The dialogue is filled with corny lines such as: "He's really put the bug in bugging devices." The clever set, designed by the author, sticks to the black, white and gray palette of a black-and-white movie, complete with gray food. And Tony Tsendeas' high-camp direction is right on target, as are the zealous performances of his cast, which also includes Brian Chetalat, Lucia Bowes and Mark Harp.
The issues underlying all of this fun are important ones, however. On the inside, is John, the Fly, still the man Alexandra married? If not, what is the loving response to his condition? Most important, is there a difference between the sanctity of life and the quality of life?
"I Married a Fly" can be enjoyed on the obvious level of a sci-fi send-up. But on a deeper level, it functions as a metaphor for difficult right-to-die issues, which the playwright poses, but wisely, does not preach about. The result is a remarkably inspired, challenging work.
"I Married a Fly"
Where: Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays; through April 9
Call: (410) 752-8558