nytheatre.com review by Unknown
August 11, 2007
One might think that a play titled Vampire University would consist of nothing more than camp excess and B-movie Boos. In fact, the biggest surprise in this Ice Factory Festival presentation is that it actually has bite in its fangs—even if they are eventually revealed to be plastic.
A description of the plot reads like an '80s late night shocker like Fright Night or The Monster Squad. A dysfunctional clan of vampires from Romania move to America and settle near a Christian University. The Patriarch, Sposito, is shy and afraid of people and rarely leaves his mausoleum. To keep himself alive he injects himself in the neck with the blood of recently deceased humans. His estranged son, who has chosen a career as a doctor, acts as his dealer and brings him suitcases filled with blood. Matriarch Noelle is a type-A vampire: efficient and very effective at her job. But she has grown to resent her husband's weakness. Daughter Lydia is still in college and has been for over 400 years. Unwilling to settle on a major, she lumbers in academic limbo.
The proximity to a Christian University provides the vampires with a potentially inexhaustible source of nourishment. As the vampires make their way through the student body and faculty they begin to change—the reasons are never made clear—and develop human characteristics. An exchange of values between the Christians and the pagan monsters begins to occur. Of course mayhem—much bloodletting, crucifixions, mistaken personalities, and sex—ensues.
John Kaplan's ambitious but unfocused script departs from the tradition of vampire literature. The old tales played out the theme of modern revolution by dramatizing the death and overthrow of the aristocracy. Kaplan's Vampires exist in a post-Anne Rice universe in which we are invited to identify with the killers by seeing them as worldly, cultivated, European, and sophisticated. It is no accident that many of the scenes, especially between Sposito and Noelle, take their cues from the work of Noel Coward. Kaplan has much to say about faith and hypocrisy, about freedom and tyranny (both spiritual and physical), immigration, capitalism, assimilation, the nature of family, and the search for divinity. The ideas are rich but their potential to illuminate remains hidden in a diffuse and tonally confused production.
All of the actors do fine work. As the heads of the clan, Michael Frederic and Tamara Scott, do excellent comic work. Their scenes are fun and they handle the double entendres and groan-inducing puns with great skill, but they are never believable as killers. Their warmth as performers undermines the early domestic scenes where the monstrous and the banal have to be carefully balanced. As the estranged son, Tom, Mark Boyett deadpans to hilarious and chilling effect. And Ashley L. Goehring plays the potentially insufferable character of Lydia with great dignity and flair.
Director Desmond Mosley has not found the proper tone for the piece. The threat of the vampires is never fully developed; what should come off as chilling turns to comedy of the broadest type. And what should be hilarious is thrown away and wooden. He seems most at ease with living room drama—a family confrontation at the top of Act 2 sparkles with wit and tension, alas it is the only sequence in the show that carries such weight and finds the balance needed to make us care about these characters.
The play ends on a meta-theatrical note that actually manages to be both hilarious and pretty scary. But it only serves to remind us of what a more focused production could have achieved.