Before South Park, there was Cannibal! The Musical. Trey Parker made the movie while he and co-creator Matt Stone were students at the University of Colorado at Boulder. It's the (mostly sort of true) story of Alferd Packer, convicted of cannibalism after he was the only man to return from an ill-fated expedition into the Colorado Territory. Like the more polished work that would later come from the Parker/Stone team-up, Cannibal is irreverent, profane, and satirically self-indulgent—and damn funny.

In their stage production, Third Eye Theatre puts in a good effort but ultimately misses the mark. There are some strong performances and some great moments, but director and star Ira Kortum really just doesn't seem to get it. As over the top and ridiculous as Parker's writing can be, what makes it work is that it's not played for audience laughs. Sure, it's funny as hell—but in the world of the show, it's serious. And that's what makes it funny. In Third Eye's production, the parts that worked were those in which the players existed solely in the world of the show. Unfortunately, these moments were far overshadowed by hammy attempts to gun for laughs—which undermined the funny so dramatically that it was actually painful at times.

Support The Portland Mercury

The most persistent example of this was the "alien visitors." There are a handful of spots in the movie where Parker slipped in the visual of an alien head—flashing onto it briefly and then moving on—making them images you'll only see if you know to look for them. Kortum picked up this little joke and included alien heads in his own staging, as well. But instead of a sly allusion, the aliens were inexplicable, ever-present characters in the show. Further, Kortum apparently didn't think the show was long enough, so he added a ridiculous and unnecessary 10-minute comedy routine at the top and a five-minute welcome-to-the-show talk. By the time the play actually started, audience members were already glancing at their watches.

It's really a shame, because the original material is funny and the cast's efforts are well intentioned. But they needed a director who actually understood Parker's humor and could help the cast reach its full potential. If they could have just stopped fucking with it, it might have been a really fun show.

SLAY Film Fest
In person at the Clinton St. Theater 10/29 & 10/30