VAMPIRE LESBIANS OF SODOM
Royal George Theatre
"You may one day marry and even have children but you will always be a homosexual . . . ALWAYS!"--Screen vamp Madeleine Astarte to screen idol King Carlisle, in Vampire Lesbians of Sodom
What is this thing called Vampire Lesbians of Sodom?
Definitely not a story. Neither Vampire nor its companion piece--Sleeping Beauty, or Coma--gives an audience much of anything to follow: they're more like a pair of longish improv skits, teasing a premise out across a whole evening. They're not very big on the other conventional elements, either. Their characters are about as deep as Daffy Duck, their repartee implacably adolescent. ("We lived in Barthelona," says the sometime Castilian, La Condessa Scrofula de Hoya, in Vampire, "a thity renowned for its thpithy cuithine.")
What Vampire is is Attitude. Heavy Attitude. The sort of campy, bitchy, flaming, raving, out-there drag-queen Attitude most famously associated with the late Charles Ludlam and his Ridiculous Theatre. Created by New York cross-dress diva Charles Busch, Vampire and Sleeping Beauty are Attitude as form and function, content and technique. They'd kill for the right pair of pumps.
Have I suggested that these two scripts depend on Attitude? I meant to be more forceful. I meant to say they just plain don't exist without it. They simply are the big big double takes, the burlesque-house bumps and grinds, the husky-voiced come-ons, and the buh-dum-bum punch-line deliveries that go with lines like, "I'd talk about your cock but I've got respect for the dead." Most of all, they're the sly but hardly subtle sexual subversion occasioned by Busch's strategic plays on gender--plays that lead to situations like the one here, where we find ourselves watching what may or may not be an attractive man act the role of an even more attractive lady vampire with a taste for fresh female virgins.
Go light on the Attitude and you've lost the show.
As directed by Douglas Hartzell, the new Edge production of Vampire and Sleeping Beauty goes light on the Attitude. With predictable results.
I'm not absolutely sure whether this fateful shortcoming is a result of directorial choice or opening-night sluggishness. The show's associate producer assured me that some pacing problems have been worked out since I saw the show, implying that the Edge people themselves recognized a disappointing lack of affect. I'd hate to think they intentionally toned things down in hopes of appealing to a more general midwestern audience. That would be aesthetic, economic, and maybe even moral suicide.
The fact remains, however, that the show I saw lacked the freneticism, the abandon, the anarchic gender-fucking Attitude it absolutely must have if it's going to keep from disappearing entirely. This mattered a little less where Sleeping Beauty was concerned: set mostly in the hip English fashion scene of the 60s, this Richard Lester-ish update of the well-known fairy tale packs a lot of Attitude in its Carnaby Street styles, so neatly pegged by costume designer John Nasca.
But it's catastrophic for Vampire, which consists of nothing more than a series of encounters between a couple of tough-cookie bloodsuckers, and must therefore be carried or dropped by the ensemble alone. Josette DiCarlo's typically laid-back approach is especially inappropriate when applied to her half of the shape-shifting title team; normally an endearing comedienne, she grows tediously repetitive before her first incarnation's over.
Alexandra Billings is more lively as the other vampire, her mystery enhanced by the ambiguity she projects: you can sit there all evening, trying to figure out what sex she is when she goes home at night. But, again, her gestural vocabulary is too limited, her crazy energy too muted here to make the piece work the way it should.
Everybody else tries hard and competently. Patrick Towne offers a couple of especially witty caricatures; Richard Walker has a funny turn, playing against his distinctly African American type as a Jewish guy from the New York garment trade; and Bruce Terris acts appropriately confused as a Sodomite with a conscience. Even so, the only cast member with a touch of real Attitude magic is the rubber-faced, dancerly Peter Mohawk, who offers up the most serenely, most transcendently offensive queen cartoon I've ever seen. It's pure Attitude and it's absolutely perfect.