Vampire Lesbians of Sodom & Sleeping Beauty or Coma
nytheatre.com review by Julie Congress
June 19, 2008
This performance features two one-act camp shows: Sleeping Beauty and Vampire Lesbians of Sodom. The first bears very little resemblance to the fairy tale, and indeed, it is not until the last ten minutes or so that we understand why it's called Sleeping Beauty. Mostly it deals with the 1960s London fashion scene. Fauna Alexander, played by the very talented Michael Miller in drag, is a young clothing designer looking to make it big. She teams up with young photographer Ian and young secretary-turned-model Enid Wetwhistle and they rise to the top despite the best efforts of the evil old designer Sebastian Loré and his hag of an assistant Miss Thick. While the premise is cute, the '60s music quite fun, and the stylized presentational camp aesthetic strong, the play is 45 minutes long when it probably should be 20 and quite dragged, no pun intended, as a result. In particular, the montages, though very funny and done with great care and specificity, are too numerous, and the sheer number of short scenes makes it feel long.
And now our feature presentation: Vampire Lesbians of Sodom by Charles Busch, in which a virgin sacrificed in Sodom is turned into a vampire lesbian and spends the rest of eternity plotting against the head vampire lesbian who made her so. From biblical Sodom to 1920s Hollywood to 1980s Las Vegas, we follow the two as they try to one-up and out-barb each other in tooth-to-tooth battle. Miller plays Madeleine Astarté, the sacrifice-turned-bloodsucker, with tremendous star power and terrific timing. Elizabeth Claire Taylor plays her/his counterpart as the more-New-Jersey-than-Transylvania accented La Condesa, yet she lacks the magnitude and power to appear a worthy adversary. Granted, she's a young woman, and he's a very versed drag queen, so the playing field is rather uneven to begin with. The play is very funny, and includes one very fun dance sequence in which Madeleine Astarté is rehearsing her Vegas number (complete with showboys) which turns out to be the Chinese version of "Anything Goes."
Miller knows exactly what he's doing: how to gain a laugh with a bat or roll of the eyes and when to get the most out of a line by going into a bass voice. In a way, he's playing two parts at once. His drag persona is ever present, blatantly aware and taking care of the audience, and then this persona plays the characters of Fauna or Madeleine. The rest of the ensemble works very hard, with varying degrees of success, to capture the strong style of the piece.
The costumes, by Tom Kleinert, are fantastic—bright, silly, creative, and over-the-top. The wigs and makeup, by Daryon Haylock, are equally perfect. Ken Hailey's direction is crisp, detailed, and at any given moment there is bound to be someone making some sort of grander-than-life gesture. At the end of the day, you just have to embrace this play for what it is: presentational, catty, ridiculous, and blatantly theatrical. It's fun, it's camp, and it showcases a really great performer.