BY CHARLES KIESER
“There will now always be two groups of theatergoers in this world: those who have seen Moose Murders, and those who have not.” So said New York Times theater critic Frank Rich after attending the first, and last, Broadway performance of Moose Murders. He went on to call it “the worst play I’ve ever seen on a Broadway stage,” and the audience didn’t disagree with him.
Despite – or perhaps, because of its complete failure, Moose Murders has enjoyed a fairly healthy run off-Broadway. Community theater groups have held staged readings of the play, mining its infamous badness for humor and shock value. (And yes, it is shocking.) One of those readings just took place at Northwestern, held at the Mussetter-Struble Theater and produced by Zachary Barr ‘18.
“I found the play to be really interesting,” Barr said; “this one play was just universally considered ‘the absolute worst.’” Still, he recognized the potential for enjoyment in the play: “other plays are better written than Moose Murders, but are worse for their inherent dullness…Moose Murders never stops being engaging.”
“Engaging” is a mild word. Over the course of two acts, Moose Murders twists, turns, uses incest for comic relief, gives its characters names like “Stinky” and “Joe Buffalo Dance,” kills characters at will, kills characters without any explanation, and manages to offend nearly every group living in the US, including moose.
As the play became less and less believable to the audience – my friend constantly asked me what was going on – the actors didn’t have it any easier. The first read-through went a half- hour longer than the show; actor Carrie Caffrey ’14 said she had to “bite her cheek” to stop cracking up. After that, nobody broke into laughter much, surprisingly. Barr made it clear to his team that they weren’t trying to “fix” the play. He refers to the actors as “ten of the bravest people I’ve ever worked with…I was afraid that they’d eventually say, ‘I’m not going to do that,’ but they were always willing to give all that they could.”
It’s that dedication that made Moose Murders such a conspicuous play in the first place. If Bicknell wrote the play badly on purpose, it probably would’ve been forgotten by now. That the playwright, director, and actors all took Moose Murders seriously is nothing short of astounding, placing it in the category of “so bad, it’s good” works like The Room and Birdemic. “Enjoying these works,” Barr says, “comes less from seeing bad qualities and more from wondering how anyone could have seen good qualities in them.”
At the end of the day, Barr wonders: “Did Bicknell ever think, ‘maybe the idea of a moose chasing a 12-year-old with a boat paddle is a little ridiculous?’ We’ll never know.” I wonder if we’ll ever want to know. That would take all the fun out of it.