Madeline Braun As Ocean O’Connell Rosenberg. Courtesy Photo.

Plummeting into the Afterlife

OCT’s ‘Ride the Cyclone’ is the best thing to happen on stage in Eugene this year

As the lights come up on this brilliant little musical that opened March 1 at Oregon Contemporary Theatre, we learn that six members of the St. Cassian High School chamber choir have just died in a gruesome accident on the Cyclone, a roller coaster in a shabby amusement park in the stark northern Canada mining town of Uranium, Saskatchewan.

But instead of being just plain dead, they all now inhabit a carnival-like limbo, where they’re overseen by the robotic Amazing Karnak, played with dour precision from a mechanical fortune-telling booth by Lee Vogt.

As we meet the students, one at a time, we learn from Karnak that they have a possible path back to the life they all lost when the Cyclone suddenly derailed from its tracks at the apex of the loop-the-loop and plummeted to the ground.

More precisely, Karnak explains, exactly one of the six dead choristers will be allowed to return to life — the one who secures a unanimous vote by all six students following an afterlife talent contest.

Thus begins a fast-paced, funny, sad and utterly engaging show, presented in a single 90-minute act, that will leave you breathless with its rapid-fire and increasingly obscure cultural allusions — remember the smiling teens of “Up With People,” anyone?

Ride the Cyclone, by Canadians Jacob Richmond and Brooke Maxwell, is the second in Richmond’s proposed trilogy of “Teen Scream” plays (the first was Legoland); it premiered in 2008 in Victoria, British Columbia, came to the States in 2015 via Chicago Shakespeare, and reached off-Broadway at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in 2016. Since then it’s become a cult favorite thanks to viral popularity on TikTok.

In the play, the talent contest has lurid overtones of reality TV and voting people off the island, but it also serves to bring out deep facets of each of the dead children’s personalities as they sing about their lives and offer their earnest monologues in hopes of getting home.

The entitled Ocean O’Connell Rosenberg (Madeline Braun) leads off the contest, explaining why she is the obvious choice to be sent back since she’s the smartest, most talented and hardest working among them. From there we wind our way through the cast of 21st century adolescent character types, all more or less founded on personal trauma: Constance (Annie Craven) is a shy girl, the bff sidekick to Ocean; Mischa (Matthew Michaels) is a hard-drinking bro, and Ukrainian, too; Ricky (Ethan Kemper) spent much of his life mute and isolated, but is now over-compensating with hyper affection; and Noel (Avery Eberardo) is sweetly — and, we learn, sometimes flamboyantly — gay.

But the most compelling performance, without a doubt, comes from Laura Tuffli as Jane Doe, the accident’s unidentified victim, an unknown choir member who was decapitated and whose head was never recovered. Jane appears in this production as an aggressively punk young woman carrying a beheaded doll and unable to recall anything about her life. In the talent show she brings an electrifyingly operatic voice to bear on the poignant “Ballad of Jane Doe,” the song that exploded on TikTok. In it she pleads with St. Peter to at least let her know who she was: “Oh, no soul, and no name/ And no story, what a shame/ Cruel existence was only a sham?”

OCT’s Producing Artistic Director Craig Willis directs a cast that is uniformly excellent. The carnival/steampunk scenery design is by Jeffrey Cook; tight and interesting choreography is by Alexander Holmes.

I won’t spoil the plot by divulging the contest winner. I will say this: Get your tickets now. Once word gets around town how good it is, Cyclone could easily sell every seat in its brief three-weekend run. Do take your high school age kids, who will love it; you might want to leave the youngsters at home, though they probably would love it as well.

Ride the Cyclone runs through March 17 at Oregon Contemporary Theatre, 194 W. Broadway. Tickets and more info at

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