This Weekend, Last Chance to See ‘Worst Director’s’ Movies On Stage

ed wood bride of monsterCourtesy DMT Lt. Dick Craig (Joshua Schwartz) and
Janet Lawton (Lindsey Carter) in “Bride of
the Monster”

This weekend, you’ll want to jump on your last chance to catch Frank Cwiklik’s madcap stage adaptations of the works of Ed Wood, widely hailed as the worst director of all-time.

Using minimal sets in the Red Room theater, Mr. Cwiklik ingeniously deploys music, dance, projections, video screens and many entrances and exits to elaborately block his very skillful actors through Wood’s unintentionally bad dialogue. They seamlessly carry the plots and garner many laughs along the way.

“Downtown Theater is all about motion in small spaces, with limitations and low budgets just like Ed Wood did,” said Mr. Cwiklik, a prolific writer, director, and producer who is drawn to Wood’s works along with those of Shakespeare. “They tackle every genre,” he said of the two auteurs. “They come from the heart and are concerned with entertaining their audiences first.“

Mr. Cwiklik previously wrote and directed a popular S&M version of “Macbeth” called “Bitch Macbeth.” Since 1999, his company, DMTheatrics, has staged more productions than most put out in decades. Which, of course, brings Wood to mind.

Famously played by Johnny Depp in Tim Burton’s 1994 biopic, Wood wrote 47 screenplays and directed 18 grade-z budgeted productions famously marred by technical gaffes, lots of free stock footage, horrible acting by his ensemble of Hollywood outcasts and incredibly cheesy dialogue. His merry band of outsiders included Bela Lugosi, Vampira, wrestler Tor Johnson and the phony mystic Criswell.

ed wood violentCourtesy DMT Left to right: Emily Edwards, Lara Jean Mummert,
Shiloh Klein, and Ivy Hong in “The Violent Years.”

The movies were pretty awful but they were subversively entertaining: they had something. Wood, who often directed in drag, died in 1978 at the age of 54, scratching out a living writing pornography. Just a few years later, the Medved Brothers immortalized him as “the worst director of all-time.” Their book, “The Golden Turkey Awards,” along with the rise of home video, helped “Plan 9 From Outer Space,” “Glen or Glenda” and “Bride of the Monster” find new audiences. The director became a cult figure thanks in part to film festivals, documentaries and even a Church of Ed Wood that boasts some 3,000 baptized members.

DM’s heartfelt adaptations of five of the director’s films are presented as double features, with the shows running just over an hour each. At $20 for one show and $30 for both, they make for a very reasonably priced night of theater. The whole festival will end Sunday with a marathon of four of the shows, which must be some kind of record somewhere.

Here’s what to expect.

ed wood sinisterCourtesy DMT Lindsey Carter, Michele Schlossberg, Ivy Hong in
“The Sinister Urge!”

“Bride of the Monster”: Sat. at 9:30 p.m. Mr. Cwiklik, a fan of fright films, stages this as if it was a classic Universal horror movie and plays it straight. It literally takes the material to new places. Tom O’Connor gives a fine performance as the tragic villain Vornoff, who was played in the film by Bela Lugosi. Features fine giant octopus wrangling.

“Night of the Ghouls”: Sun. at 1 p.m. (Double feature with “The Violent Years”) The sequel to “Bride of the Monster.” A sleazebag con artist “Dr. Acula” comes to the estate where all the grisly events took place and holds séances, which actually raises the dead and the ghouls wreak havoc. “The management is not responsible if you die of fright during this show…”

“The Violent Years”: Sun at 1 p.m. (Double feature with “Night of the Ghouls”) This tale of four teenage girls running amok and committing all sorts of crimes, escalating to murder, is Wood’s take on the juvenile delinquent genre that was so popular in the fifties. The ensemble deftly lets it all hang out in this adaptation.

“Hot Ice”, Sat. at 8 p.m. and Sun. at 8 p.m. A true rarely seen rarity that came out in 1978 just before he died, Wood had a hand in this story and it needs to be seen to be believed. A hybrid jewel heist/snobs vs. slob/sex comedy that features three musical numbers at a ski resort! It somehow all comes together in the big skiing contest finale.

“The Sinister Urge!”, Fri. at 7:30 p.m. and Sun. at 9:30 p.m. One of DM’s most popular shows, this one has it all and it’s really funny and expertly staged. Each member of the cast gets a chance to really shine in this very funny expose of the “smut movie racket,” which Wood eventually ended up in himself. Jason Stanley and Josh Potter are very entertaining as crusading coppers with a slight twist. Craig Kelton Peterson is great as a sinewy psycho killer. Cedric Jones, as smut director “Johnny Ride” provides some nice moments, and Michelle Schlossberg steals the show as crime-racket queen “Gloria Henderson.” Ivy Hong plays a variety of parts and deserves special mention in this terrific presentation.

Through July 1 at The Red Room, 85 East Fourth Street, between Second Avenue and Bowery. Tickets $20 for one show, $30 for double feature. (212) 868-4444.