Review: The Pumpkin Pie Show returns with four sinister stories
Some types of entertainment work well on Zoom; others don't. But if there's one thing that might just be better on Zoom than it is in person, it's storytelling. Gone is the stage, the distance between you and the performer, and the other audience members. It's just you (the viewer) and a single performer, their face close to the camera. It feels like you're having a private conversation. Over Zoom, storytelling becomes more immediate, more forceful, and perhaps more uncomfortable.
Clay McLeod Chapman’s The Pumpkin Pie Show capitalizes on all those benefits. Chapman has been performing the macabre storytelling show for 20 years, but 2017 was supposed to be its final year. Then, a pandemic hit, and with everyone stuck at home for Halloween, Chapman decided to resurrect The Pumpkin Pie Show. With performing partner Hanna Cheek, he created a new installment--The Pumpkin Pie Show: Quarantine Tales. On Halloween night, the two performed a series of four short stories via YouTube Live, hosted by Frigid New York.
In the first story, a man whose marriage is falling apart is forced to explore his irrational loathing for baby carrots. That may not sound very scary, but only because you don't know what Chapman is capable of. A writhing mass of possessed baby carrots long past their expiration date can actually be pretty disturbing. With ease and expression born of 20+ years storytelling, Chapman can make any situation funny or frightening, sometimes at the same time. It's an absurd story for an absurd time.
Hanna Cheek performed two stories about formidable women: one a circus performer with a beautiful face and razor sharp teeth; the other an angelic-looking bride who's actually a twisted murderess. The first woman tells her own story with almost tender nonchalance, calmly narrating horrifying events. She seems to enjoy telling this story, and she's decidedly unconcerned about the havoc she's wreaked on more men than she can count.
In the second story, Cheek portrays a bitter woman whose pain at her sister's betrayal (combined with a significant alcohol intake) has eliminated any filter she may have had. A drunk bridesmaid spills a disturbing secret at her sister's wedding, and as the narrative slowly unfolds, we can only imagine the reactions of the bride, groom, and guests. Riveting and unsettling, it's like watching a train wreck in slow motion.
My personal favorite story was Chapman's "Nail on the Head," about a man who finds a haunted hammer. Used as a murder weapon by its previous owner, the hammer slowly starts to take hold of its new owner, with devastating results. I always like a good ghost story around Halloween, and this one was reminiscent of several Edgar Allan Poe yarns. Chapman's performance was perfect: mixing humor, unreliability, and terror.
The mental images Chapman and Cheek seared into my mind will stick with me for a while. At the end of the day, The Pumpkin Pie Show: Quarantine Tales testified to the power of good storytelling in any time, place, or format.
Erin Kahn is an NYC based author, freelance writer, theatre critic, and book and album reviewer. Her reviews have caused artists to laugh out loud and weep with joy (true story). Contact her at erin_kahn(at)aol.com.