News Ticker

Teeth

A sometimes-brilliant adaptation of Mitchell Lichtenstein’s 2007 cult classic horror film where the heroine’s vagina sprouts teeth to combat sex she doesn’t want.

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Courtney Bassett, Helen J Shen, Lexi Rhoades, Alyse Alan Louis, Wren Rivera, Phoenix Best and Jenna Rose Husli in a scene from Anna Jacobs and Michael R. Jackson’s new musical “Teeth” at Playwrights Horizons (Photo credit: Chelcie Parry)

Tony Marinelli, Critic

Best known for her musicals POP! and Anytown, composer and co-librettist Anna Jacobs and lyricist and co-book-writer Michael R. Jackson set their sights on adapting Mitchell Lichtenstein’s cult classic horror film, Teeth. Michael R. Jackson’s A Strange Loop won the Pulitzer for Drama in 2020 and the Tony Awards for Best Musical and Best Book for a Musical in 2022. His subsequent musical, White Girl in Danger, co-produced by Second Stage Theater and Vineyard Theatre in 2023, was an interesting follow-up work, but having only a short run in 2023, it did not receive the acclaim, or the awards bestowed on A Strange Loop.

Teeth is set in New Testament Village. Yes, that is really the name of the town where this takes place. We watch Dawn, the pretty charismatic leader of the Promise Keeper Girls, the Christian teen girl group who have been raised to value their purity (read “virginity”) more than anything else, as she navigates, questions, and suppresses her own passions and urges. While being held responsible for one of her cohorts getting pregnant on her watch, she contends with her own lustful feelings toward her very hot, muscular boyfriend. And, apparently, she is not alone in her feelings. Everyone is suppressing urges.

Jared Loftin and Alyse Alan Louis in a scene from Anna Jacobs and Michael R. Jackson’s new musical “Teeth” at Playwrights Horizons (Photo credit: Chelcie Parry)

Dawn’s stepfather just happens to be the pastor of the religious cult. He preaches chastity before marriage and mounts a soapbox, er pulpit, to declare that any other kind of sexual relationship fosters shame. He is determined to make an example of the recently discovered pregnant girl in their midst. And, what a surprise, he has his urges too. He worships, nay, even covets, his stepdaughter and the devotion he directs toward her may seem in direct proportion to the violent child abuse he inflicts upon his own son Brad. A scene of him relentlessly beating Brad down with a belt is probably one of the most uncomfortably horrific scenes in live theater.

Brad and Dawn have a contentious relationship. Though they live under the same roof, they may as well be strangers. True, he begrudges Dawn the attention she gets from his father, but there’s also an episode in their past that drives an impossible wedge between them. When they were very young and playing “Doctor” the way some kids do, he put his finger somewhere to see how deep it would go. He was rewarded for his effort with losing the joint of that finger. She bit him, but actually “it” bit him. She wasn’t even aware it happened so it’s a secret Brad keeps until something else happens…unbeknownst to Dawn she will become a murderer.

Steven Pasquale in a scene from Anna Jacobs and Michael R. Jackson’s new musical “Teeth” at Playwrights Horizons (Photo credit: Chelcie Parry)

 

The score has some great numbers. The lyrics are often not for the faint of heart. An early number for Dawn and the Promise Keeper Girls, “Precious Gift” offers thoughts like “may you always feel the misery/ the cold and the darkness/ that comes from giving up your precious gift” and “the gift he gave us!/ the gift he gave us!/ stays locked up tight in a box at the meeting of my hips/ a precious gift!”  Later Brad’s confession when he joins the Truthseekers, a group of men who are trying to reclaim their masculinity and reposition the male-dominant society via Virtual Reality meetings, is a fun “She bit me/ It bit me/ Between her pussy lips/ I felt a twinge of pressure then such pain/ I yanked my hand and saw that I had just four fingertips.” The duet “Modest is Hottest” for Tobey and Dawn is so tongue-in-cheek as they praise each other for their good Christian virtues…they both want to act upon their impulses, but we’d be idiots not to see that’s coming later. “Shame in My Body” for Dawn and the Promise Keeper Girls is another confessional with “and it’s Tobey’s doing/he’s pure and he’s sweet/ but I still fell the heat/ the heat of temptation/ ‘cause he’s so freakin’ hot/and I wish I did not/feel desire brewing…”

The turning point of this story is when Tobey and Dawn confess their true feelings for each other, not that they’re going to be boyfriend and girlfriend, because that’s understood from the get-go, but an admission of carnal thoughts and in Tobey’s “unpacking” a further admission that he’s not as pure as Dawn thinks: he is quick to blame Satan for his losing of his virginity to the girl that played Mary opposite his Joseph in a Christmas play…even Jesus would blush, but when one breaks down the dramatic structure, doesn’t that make Jesus an enabler? It’s his Christmas play, right? The lyrics of the ensuing song “Playing With Fire” can’t be printed here…don’t ask why; they just can’t. Their almost-coitus gets interrupted by Ryan, Dawn’s gay bestie, who is quick to remark, “Tobey sure is fit, isn’t he?” which is not wasted on the straight females and gay males in the audience.

Alyse Alan Louis and Jason Gotay in a scene from Anna Jacobs and Michael R. Jackson’s new musical “Teeth” at Playwrights Horizons (Photo credit: Chelcie Parry)

Ryan has a fun song about his identity as a gay man, “Born Again.” “I’ve done a lotta dirt and I’m far from squeaky clean/though I’ve tried to erase all the black marks from my record/to some I’m still known as the creampie anal queen.” Even the Promise Keeper Girls gasp in collective horror when they hear that line, although whether they understand the meaning is up for discussion. “Dunk me in the water/ wash away my shame/ pair me with the girl who will proudly take my name,” as if he easily can un-gay himself. Next, he’ll be eating all his meals at Chick-fil-A, with a deprogramming to go.

Needless to say, when Tobey and Dawn meet up again, they profess their undying love, she takes off her promise ring, and he wants a preview of what it will be like to be married to her. Remember, Dawn is still a virgin, so when she says, “Tobey, stop,” and he ignores her, and then says “TOBEY, YOU’RE HURTING,” he then pulls away and blood pumps all over the place. His penis is gone, and he collapses face-first into the lake. For those that keep score, Dawn 2, Men 0.

Bestie Ryan talks Dawn into seeing a gynecologist, Dr. Godfrey, as he feels there must be a logical explanation for what’s going on “down there.” One of the best songs in the show, “Girls Like You,” is a bit of a nod to the classic Dentist number in Little Shop of Horrors. It is a great showy piece for the actor, here, the stunning Steven Pasquale, although he loses his hands by the end of the song. Pasquale has also been doubling as the voice of the Truthseeker Leader as well as the insane Pastor in love with his stepdaughter.

Will Connolly and Alyse Alan Louis in a scene from Anna Jacobs and Michael R. Jackson’s new musical “Teeth” at Playwrights Horizons (Photo credit: Chelcie Parry)

Will Connolly as Brad and Jason Gotay as Tobey shine in their moments. Jared Loftin as Ryan walks away with a lot of the laughs, and his dramatic turn where he reveals himself to be just as inconsiderate, selfish and opportunistic as the straight guys comes out of nowhere but is believable, nonetheless. Alyse Alan Louis as Dawn makes us co-inhabit all the conflicting feelings she experiences right there with her. She is mortified by the death of Tobey, but he really does get carried away by the moment and her “teeth” acting as the vagina dentata take the control completely out of her hands.

Moments later when Dawn and the Promise Keeper Girls become the scourge – a berserk septet of Loreena Bobbitts – the show loses its hands from around the wheel.  We can understand Dawn’s reaction to Ryan filming her. After all, this is where she begins to intentionally use the teeth to enact revenge. We get it, but having the entire pack of Promise Keeper Girls appear to be variations on the Dawn theme giving them all “teeth” that they can use on the Truthseekers and any other men still on stage just doesn’t sit well. It dilutes Dawn’s story.

Jenna Rose Husli, Wren Rivera, Alyse Alan Louis, Phoenix Best and Helen J Shen in a scene from Anna Jacobs and Michael R. Jackson’s new musical “Teeth” at Playwrights Horizons (Photo credit: Chelcie Parry)

Sarah Benson’s direction is spot-on, but we find ourselves wishing the closing scene was more than just a plethora of bloody penises. This is where the creatives needed to say, “Okay, this is probably not what we wanted to say”. Adam Rigg’s scenic design though spare, is perfect for a mid-America room that can pass as a small church, or AA meeting. The neon cross is a great touch and Jane Cox and Stacey Derosier’s changing colors do not go unnoticed…particularly when the cross is pink amidst a lavender wash when Ryan is in the scene. Enver Chakartash’s costume design is appropriate across the board, although the women’s outfits in the closing scene are a mélange of Tina Turner’s castoffs from Mad Max Beyond the Thunderdome. Choreographer Raja Feather Kelly provides fine ensemble suites for the Promise Keeper Girls.

If the closing 20 minutes or so could be reined in a bit, there is no reason this show can’t be as successful as A Little Shop of Horrors. The talent is there…and in spades.

Teeth (extended through April 28, 2024)

Mainstage Theater, Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, visit http://www.playwrightshorizons.org

Running time: one hour and 50 minutes without an intermission

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

About Tony Marinelli (54 Articles)
Tony Marinelli is an actor, playwright, director, arts administrator, and now critic. He received his B.A. and almost finished an MFA from Brooklyn College in the golden era when Benito Ortolani, Howard Becknell, Rebecca Cunningham, Gordon Rogoff, Marge Linney, Bill Prosser, Sam Leiter, Elinor Renfield, and Glenn Loney numbered amongst his esteemed professors. His plays I find myself here, Be That Guy (A Cat and Two Men), and …and then I meowed have been produced by Ryan Repertory Company, one of Brooklyn’s few resident theatre companies.
Contact: Website

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.




This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.