Review: An Affair to Dismember, in the Gory Musical ‘Teeth’

Review: An Affair to Dismember, in the Gory Musical ‘Teeth’

The real source of Dawn’s terror, though, is not familial or theocratic but erotic. Though the song she sings with her hunky boyfriend (Jason Gotay) is a sweet midtempo number called “Modest Is Hottest,” their sublimated lust is barely sub. And when even her gay bestie (Jared Loftin) turns out to have the hots for her, where’s a girl to turn?

If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll recall how Dawn discovers she’s the hostess with the mostest — and also who first falls victim to her outraged dentata.

Still, you won’t be prepared for the full-on gore-fest the musical becomes. Joined by the former Promise Keeper girls, who transform into sadistic demigoddesses commanding an army of zombified manservants, Dawn claims many more victims than in the film. In the authors’ view, those victims include Dawn herself; she is a casualty not just of misogyny but also of her vengeance against it.

Despite that explanation, the transition from camp to grand guignol feels like an overreach. Not that “Teeth” was ever going to be naturalistic; the tale, by its nature, is satirical, if grisly. But Dawn and the others too often change because the ideological template requires it — not because it makes sense. That’s especially damaging in a musical, which requires characters to sing from facts and feelings, not agendas.

The agenda being enormous — nothing less than a wholesale rethinking of sex and shame in human culture — the appealing cast is forced to spend the show’s second half in massive overdrive. The songs, previously light and amusing, become thick and grating, and the dances, by Raja Feather Kelly, become trudges. At least Pasquale, in a secondary incarnation as a surprised gynecologist, gets a creepy, comic, toe-tapping ode to “spelunking in the birth canal.” But that hat tip to the dentist’s song in “Little Shop of Horrors” is the last we hear of subtlety.

I find the result a bit mystifying. Jackson is a major talent, and Jacobs, in her Off Broadway debut, is already highly accomplished. Benson, in her stagings of “Fairview” and “An Octoroon,” has proved herself the kind of director who can deftly manage complex genre pastiche. But in “Teeth,” I’m sorry to say, this holy trinity has bitten off more than it can chew.

Teeth
Through April 14 at Playwrights Horizons, Manhattan; playwrightshorizons.org. Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes.

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