Vampingo: a comedy with bite
nytheatre.com review by Amy Lerner
August 15, 2007
Vampingo...a comedy with bite sounds like it might be your usual Fringe fare, but it's a far cry from the wacky tale of vampire-flamingos that you would expect. Instead, it is the story of its author/performer Ariana Johns's journey of battling her personal demons.
The "vampingo" in question is part of a book that Johns wrote as a child. After introducing the book, Johns talks about her battle to overcome a broken engagement by attending suicidal tendencies meetings (self-help meetings that the law requires certain hospital outpatients to do), although she herself did not attempt suicide. By the end of the play, however, it seems no accident that Johns ended up at these meetings. She had a lot to conquer.
Unfortunately, the story being told is not as engaging as its title. Often, the story rambles and characters we meet don't seem unique enough to merit being represented onstage. For example, the various people encountered at the suicidal tendencies meetings almost seem unreal: each possesses a different accent and cliché personality. Johns also doesn't seem to dig deeply enough in her performance; it would be a richer experience if the audience could empathize with her character more.
The direction by Jolene Adams, who co-wrote the play with Johns, is also fairly uninventive: much of the blocking matches the actions exactly, when it would be more engaging to watch Johns talk about her experience rather than show it. For example, every time Johns describes drinking a glass of wine, the audience watches her drink from her water glass. This proves as a distraction because it brings attention to Johns's drinking rather than allowing her to have a sip.
The play is sparsely set with a few pieces of furniture and a small number of props to enhance the story. Scarves serve as both props and costumes; this is most effective with a piece of fabric used to represent a pantsuit, and it dresses up Johns's neutral black ensemble with just the right amount of grace.
The sound design, which was not credited, is also distracting, as the music does not enhance the story being told. Except for rare moments does it add a humorous element, and for the most part, it seems randomly placed in the play.
Walking into Vampingo...a comedy with bite, it is easy to imagine a campy, fun show rather than the story of a woman dealing with her past. For a show that claims in its title to be a comedy, there is a large amount of gravity in her story, and fewer laughs than promised. For much of the show, it is difficult to tell why a story is being told, or what that story has to do with the Vampingo book. With a change in title, the play would make more sense to its audience, and would allow Johns to portray her play with more honesty.