Imagine a mansion brought together by an array of colored doors, swamp vines slipping through the open archways, accompanied by green gators in glittering tights. To the overly ecstatic couple, Happy and Sweetness, this is home — or, at least, to Sweetness it is. In “Alligator-a-Phobia in 3D!,” a Boston Playwrights’ Theatre production, Happy grapples with adjusting to Swamp-land and the fearful reptilian neighbors.
The production is directed by Shamus, a student in the MFA directing program at Boston University, and written by Jay Eddy, a student in BU’s MFA playwriting program. It opened on Thursday, April 6 and will run through Sunday, April 16 at 949 Commonwealth Ave.
The actors started rehearsing for the show March 14, quickly learning a script that is enwrapped with tongue twisters, poetic wordplay and dramatic monologue in a period of two and a half weeks, 26 hours per week. From cymbals to xylophones, the show employed a myriad of unorthodox props, adding to the whimsical personality of the entire production.
Katherine Perry, who plays Sweetness, said the show’s multitude of props made for an initially chaotic backstage environment.
“There’s so many moving pieces and props and things and chaos on stage. It really needs backstage to be deliberate, intentional and calm. Because, otherwise, it’s a mess,” Perry said.
In addition to precise prop coordination, Perry said the dialogue needs to be “snappy,” making memorization difficult for the actors considering the short span of two and a half weeks for preparation.
Totaling nine songs, the production’s musical soundtrack comprises a fusion of styles, including blues, country and zydeco music. The cast is accompanied by an ensemble of four singing alligators, either found at the edge of the stage or peeping from the doors of the set.
“Swamp-land, the place that Happy and Sweetness arrived at in the beginning of the play, is a land of lawlessness,” said Leah Kreitz, who stars as Happy. “It’s wild, raucous. It’s huge music.”
Underneath all of the sporadic singing and satirical acting, Eddy wanted the play to exhibit real-world themes, according to the production’s program. Kreitz explains that Happy struggles to adjust to her new life.
“I think she’s trying to fit in but she doesn’t know how to find the music. But she does know how to find the poetry,” Kreitz said.
Perry said she likes how audiences can bring their own experiences to the table, allowing them to interpret “the story they are receiving” in a variety of ways.
“Maybe it is climate change, maybe it’s agoraphobia, maybe it’s harkening back to the times when we didn’t leave our houses for months and months and months,” Perry said. “The alligator can be, kind of, whatever.”
Happy’s main conflict regards struggling to adjust. Costume designer Michael O’Herron conveys this idea through Happy’s monochromatic denim outfit — a stark contrast to the vibrant, quirky outfits of the rest of the characters. For O’Herron, one major challenge was to encapsulate Happy’s character in costume, and he ended up working on four different costumes for Kreitz.
“My goal is that Happy stands out for everyone else, because everyone else in this world seems to exist cohesively,” O’Herron said. “It’s a very simple, very clean denim look, because Happy isn’t sure about their present life and Swamp-land.”
O’Herron drew inspiration from Hanna Barbera, beach b-horror movies from 1950s and 1970s animation, creating a cartoonish and vintage look to each of the characters. One of O’Herron’s proudest sets to design was the ensemble, piecing together a green, 1950s beachwear and punk rock look.
O’Herron said this design process was much easier than his past repertoire of designing historical costumes for plays like “Little Women,” as O’Herron was able to communicate with the director and playwright for ideas.
“My favorite part of the process is collaborating,” O’Herron said. “They look so cohesive together as a group, but what’s great is that they’re each so distinctive in the conversation I had with them, and that goes for the entire cast as well.”
As Perry describes it, “Alligator-a-Phobia in 3D!” is a “monster show,” packed with singing and tropes of dealing with anxiety amidst a swamp.
“Whatever your alligator is, don’t fear it,” Kreitz said. “Look that gator in the eye.”