Some houses, according to the tag line of the 1999 horror flick “The Haunting,” are born bad. Well, some plays are too.
Such is the disappointing case with the 2007-’08 season’s earliest victim of its own hype, Nearly Naked Theatre’s staging of Canadian playwright Brad Fraser’s drugged-out horror-drama “Snake in Fridge.” Promoted as “Boogie Nights” meets “The Amityville Horror,” Nearly Naked’s limp, scare-free production more often comes off as an uncensored Halloween episode of “The Young Ones,” though sporting the awkward dialogue of a Canadian teen television melodrama.
The problem isn’t so much with Dering’s staging as the script itself, whose unsatisfying plot and stilted dialogue get chopped up into frustratingly bite-size scenes that more often than not fizzle out before the lights have a chance to fade.
Still, there is a plot. Kind of. Like “The Haunting,” “Snake” is a modern riff on Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel, “The Haunting of Hill House,” in which an old, ominously labyrinthine house seems to take on a foreboding personality all its own. Here, the casa in question is a run-down Victorian house in Toronto that suffers from drafty rooms, faulty electrical wiring and the occasional mysterious grumble — either a water heater on the fritz or the demonic exudation of a house hungry for souls.
Heck, at least the rent’s cheap. Which attracts an assorted cast of societal rejects as doomed roomies: a gay-for-pay druggie (played by Ben Patch) with a Napoleon-size inferiority complex and, per the title, a pet snake loose on the property; a stripper (Ashley von Lau) and her sexually abused and mentally challenged sister (Tina Perez); a pervert with a heart of gold (Dave Edmunds); and a few others with no distinct personalities of their own.
The motley crew is overseen by 40-something landlord and small-time porn mogul Violet (Kandyce Hughes, doing her best to channel Morgan Fairchild’s lifeless, plasticky Mrs. Robinson in the touring “The Graduate” that came to Gammage Auditorium a few seasons back), whose latest endeavor finds the roommates being recruited to perform sexual acts live on the World Wide Web.
In a horror flick, this would be an excuse for some tawdry skin-baring between scenes of the scary stuff. In “Snake,” though, both the sex and the scares are pure, laughable cheesiness. (An original soundtrack by Valley composer Mark 4Man, meanwhile, adds to the hammy soap-opera melodrama.)
Dering’s staging is a mix of ragtag alternative-theater looseness and bigger production values (Nearly Naked being the Valley’s biggest indie troupe), but it’s not up to par with the company’s better works. His cast is largely younger and less experienced, and no one is able to add weight to characters so thin. Though the actors do at least pepper the occasional sentence with “eh” and pronounce “sorry” as “soo-ree” to remind us, hey, we’re in Canada.
In the end, “Snake in Fridge” is an unsatisfying show that will disappoint theater buffs and horror buffs alike. It’s a case of all hiss, no slither.
‘Snake in Fridge’
WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, alternating 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Sundays, closing Sept. 15
WHERE: Phoenix Theatre’s Little Theatre, 100 E. McDowell Road, Phoenix
INFORMATION: (602) 254-2151 or www.nearlynakedtheatre.org