Review: "The Pumpkin Pie Show: Quarantine Tales" Is Coming from Inside the House!

 The Pumpkin Pie Show: Quarantine Tales

Written by Clay McLeod Chapman

Performed by Clay McLeod Chapman and Hanna Cheek

Presented via YouTube Live

October 31, 2020

Clay McLeod Chapman. Photo credit: Antonia Stoyanovich
Halloween has, sadly, come to an end (although this coming week might be the really frightening one). If end it must, then at least this season of scares came to a creepy, funny, and enjoyably unsavory close with a new installment of Clay McLeod Chapman's macabre storytelling series The Pumpkin Pie Show. The show boasts a history stretching back to 1996, and with its latest (re)incarnation, The Pumpkin Pie Show: Quarantine Tales, playwright, novelist, and comics writer Chapman joined fellow performer Hanna Cheek to bring a quartet of finely crafted and expertly told tales into audiences' homes via the dark magic of YouTube Live.

The four stories, totaling about an hour, are each narrated in first-person, often with a sense of confessional intimacy that intensifies the vividness of the tellers and their tales. In the first, a "new-ish" story titled "Baby Carrots," told by Chapman, there's something not quite right with some of the produce that the narrator's wife has brought home to their increasingly disharmonious household. "Baby Carrots" includes some very funny moments, some historical carrot facts, and some of what can justifiably be termed body horror. The next story, "Overbite," described as one of the performers' favorites, concerns the personal history of a woman who was trained as a child to be an "Iron Jaw," a circus aerialist who hangs by her teeth. Embodied by Cheek with a strong dash of Southern belle, the narrator has encountered more than a few personal obstacles, especially where suitors are concerned, as a result of her powerful jaws. The narrator of the following story "Nail on the Head," another "new-ish one" performed by Chapman, deals much less successfully, though perhaps ironically more innocently, with his own problem: the influence of a blood-stained hammer of mysterious origin. "Bridesmaid," which Chapman noted as a personal favorite, concluded the show. Here, the titular bridesmaid, older sister to the bride and played by Cheek with martini in hand, begins by giving a typical drunkenly embarrassing wedding speech studded with inappropriate proclamations. And that's before her recollections veer towards a game that she and her sister used to play, bending the narrative towards the horrific while still managing to say something through that shift about sibling relationships, gender, and growing into adulthood.

All four of the stories, in fact, have this kind of richness: you can simply enjoy them as well drawn, disquieting yarns, but there is also subtext there if you want to look for it, about marriage, about family, about gender, about power. The fact that the wife and son in the first and third stories have the same name (although they can't be the same characters) and a child in the fourth story shares a last name with an adult in the third makes it fun to imagine a sort of Pumpkin Pie extended universe, or perhaps a Pumpkin Pie Nightvale. Chapman's writing displays equal facility with observational detail and striking images, and the horror elements are grounded in character and leavened with humor. Chapman and Cheek, both fantastic, emotive storytellers, more than do justice to the material.

Whether you are a fan of good horror or a fan of good theater (we are both), The Pumpkin Pie Show mixes all of its ingredients to seasonally appropriate perfection.  

-John R. Ziegler and Leah Richards


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