Road House: The Play! is funny. It's the sort of funny that makes you repeatedly punch the arm of the person next to you. Did they see that slow motion motorcycle scene played out on an office chair? Did they hear the narrator say, "open palm wiener slap?"
The spoof adaption—co-written by Siren Theater owner Shelley McLendon and author Courtenay Hameister—of a similarly-named Patrick Swayze film, Road House: The Play! tells the story of Dalton, a professional bouncer hired to clean up the fighting-est little club outside Kansas City.
Between the show's 30 scene changes and unforgettable songs, like "Tai Chi Pants," the parody play surrounds the audience in a cacophony of fourth-wall-breaking satire that skewers ego-driven honor, violence, and what people in the '80s thought was sex. It both is and is not the 1989 Road House.
The Mercury wrote about Road House: The Play! at its inception, a stage reading at the 2010 Fertile Ground Festival. To present the in-progress work, Hameister read stage directions for the not-totally-flushed-out fight scenes. Then Mercury Arts Editor Alison Hallett, was in the audience and noted that those directions were the best part of the performance:
"I particularly liked her blow-by-blows of the fight scenes, which were reminiscent of a very violent game of Twister. 'Punch to the face. Punch to the face. Roundhouse kick. Hair tug. Punch to the face.'"
When the show was fully staged, its cast was made up of the city's best improvisers and comedians, like McLendon as the slightly-off love interest Dr. Elizabeth Clay, Jed Arkley as a character named Wade (actually just a caricature of actor Sam Elliot), Ted Douglass as nemesis Brad, and Mercury Editor-in-Chief Wm. Steven Humphrey as a cocktail server named Carrie Ann who spends most of their scenes wandering around shouting "Dalton!" (Truly, the loudest member of the cast.) Due to Humphrey's inclusion, we never actually reviewed the work, but it also didn't need our reach.
Road House: The Play! has been staged on a semi-annual basis since, and it always sells out its run. However, with the advent of a Road House movie remake (Jake Gyllenhaal is attached) one could be concerned that the Siren may not be able to stage the parody work much longer. PRO TIP: True to form, this run sold out, but the Siren just told us they added another show on Thursday, June 15. If you haven't seen it, you totally should—who knows if they'll be able to perform it again.
For posterity's sake, the Mercury sought out the playwrights to get an idea of Road House: The Play's unusual beginnings and unknown future.
Birth of Road House: The Play!
MERCURY: In your own words, could you tell me what led to the Road House adaptation?
COURTENAY HAMEISTER: Shelley McLendon got cable.
SHELLEY MCLENDON: In 2009, every time I turned on the TV, Road House was on. It's probably on right now. And every time I saw it was on, I was compelled to watch it, even though I had seen it so many times. One day I thought, "this would be a great play." I could actually picture it in my mind. So I contacted Courtenay, who I didn't really know well, and asked if she would adapt it with me.
What do you remember about the writing process?
HAMEISTER: Because Shelley brought me in to help, I can do Dalton’s rousing “Be Nice” speech word-for-word. It’s a gift Shelley gave me that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
MCLENDON: We were on our way to just doing a parody of the movie, but then I had the opportunity to do a staged reading of it at Fertile Ground. While preparing for the stage reading, (I actually Googled: "The difference between a play script and a movie script.") I realized that someone was supposed to actually narrate the action. Describing the action of this movie is hilarious, especially the fight scenes. I had no idea what the actual fight moves were called, so I just started making up names for them. It was the best thing to happen to the script.
HAMEISTER: The genius of the narrator's stage directions, during the sex scenes, is that they’re really just an explicit description of how that scene played out. They're funny because it's a pretty uncomfortable sex scene.
What are your thoughts on Patrick Swayze?
MCLENDON: I can't take my eyes off of him, in any movie he's in.
HAMEISTER: Swayze didn’t play the role of Dalton with even a speck of irony. He was asked to play a bar bouncer, with a dark past, who was somehow known four states away—before the internet was a thing—and, gosh darn it, he acted as if that could happen.
Staging of Road House: The Play!
Road House: The Play! has 30 scene transitions and some actors play multiple characters. It's chaos. How do you manage it?
MCLENDON: We've all worked together so many times that there's definitely a shorthand backstage. We all have our own separate little areas where we have our costumes and props. When we first start the run, there's some bumping into each other and frustration, but by the end we have it so dialed in it's like a dance.
We had a long running argument over whether the performers onstage were actually playing their instruments. Are they actually playing live?
MCLENDON: Jonathan Newsome plays the guitar and sings in the show, and he wrote the music. He's the first person I check with whenever I'm looking to stage the show. He's CRUCIAL.
HAMEISTER: We took our lyrics to him, told him the style we were looking for, and he just popped out the hits like a song ATM.
Shelley, how has your character of Dr. Elizabeth Clay changed over the years?
MCLENDON: She hasn't at all—truly—other than I have finally figured out how to get my bangs to be really, really high.
Future of Road House: The Play!
I heard that Rudolph—On Stage! received a cease and desist.
MCLENDON: We didn't actually get a cease and desist, but we got a phone call. 🙂
Do you think you've been given a pass because this show is a parody? Are you worried the new Jake Gyllenhaal Road House will lead to a request that you stop?
MCLENDON: With all parodies there's a risk of being sent a cease and desist, but I hope we get to keep doing it because IT IS A BLAST. I am pretty sure it results in an uptick of rentals of the original Road House.
Road House: The Play! sold out its run again this year, but added another show at the Siren Theater, 3913 N Mississippi, Thurs June 15, 8 pm, $22-$35, tickets here, all ages (but there's fighting and sex).