Lil' Productions and First Stage Theatre
at Synergy Center
Playwright William Reilly has a great sense of humor--if he only knew it. His gothic beach musical Obsession could be a camp classic--if it wanted to be. It combines elements of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, and Friday the 13th. It's got vampires, goddesses, inane lovers, ridiculous songs, gallons of blood, sex--everything, in fact, that is needed for a riotous evening of camp. Unfortunately, Reilly, his staff, and the cast aren't quite sure whether they want it to be funny or serious. And their waffling makes for a confusing, somewhat tedious evening.
Reilly himself seems to be the most confused. He claims to have written the musical out of his "lust of dying and fear of living." That would indicate that it comes out of his personal fears, and that it is therefore serious and that the supernatural myths are being used as a device to explore real issues. Yet Obsession contains an inane plot, with character names straight out of Dracula, teen dances on the beach, and the most pathetic wallflower in the world--and it's full of lines that can't possibly be anything other than jokes. While attending his mother's funeral, Michael sings, "So many thoughts run through my head / I can't believe that she is dead." Later Michael's girlfriend sings, "Unrequited love's a bore / always leaves you wanting more." And in a hilarious scene toward the end--in which Michael's friend Jonathan, covered head to toe in blood, finally reveals his secret ("I'm a vampire. Now you know")--Michael, who thinks his friend is loony, replies, "We need to have a heart-to-heart." Hardly serious. Hardly a demonstration of a fear of life and a lust for death. To add to the confusion, Reilly ends the piece with what he must consider a joke. Ironically, it's one of the few things in the play that isn't funny.
The play comes so close to very successful satire--and would be if everything pushed just a hair further. The ridiculous 50s dance song about having fun at the beach could be a wonderful parody of Annette Funicello beach movies. The main vampire, who is supposed to seethe with sensuality and strangeness, could be really sensuous and strange--a female Tim Curry, or possibly a man in drag.
But the directors, Greg Vinkler and Todd Schmidt, must take the rap for failing to inspire their design team. Bradley J. Floden has built one of the most boring, rickety sets I've seen in a long time, and his lighting does nothing to enhance it. Marla Lampert's choreography is nonsensical at best, as it has little to do with the lyrics or mood of the songs, and she fails to take into account how the actors can't move. Geoff Binns-Calvey provides the special effects, but I'm not sure what they are. A flashlight in a vampire's mouth at one point, a whole lot of blood, and one cool smoke machine can all be managed without a specialist. Gary Lamb, also an actor in the piece, is responsible for the muddled, unrealistic fight choreography.
The actors' ability to deal with their material varies widely. The two lovers on the side of good do the best. Thad Mayhugh as Michael has the best sense of humor of the bunch and gives his comic lines the appropriate amount of tongue in cheek. He has an energetic, charming presence that fits well with his character, maintains a marvelously ambiguous relationship with his "best friend" Jonathan, and flirts with campiness. Joy Thorbjornsen, his girlfriend Nina, is the strongest actor, though she lacks some of Mayhugh's humor. Her singing voice is strong and clear, and she has a Rosalind Russell edge that livens up any scene she's in.
These who are seduced by the side of evil give a much weaker showing, again perhaps because they take it all seriously. Gary Lamb as Jonathan moves well and enjoys himself when he's finally crossed over into darkness, but when he's good, he's terminally earnest. Meg Boscov portrays the wallflower, Michael's good but obsessive sister Lucy. The character is extremely insipid--the virginal idiot everyone hated in college. But Boscov does nothing to extract herself from that goody-goody pit, and manages to make a boring character even more boring. She's deadly serious about everything, singing her vapid songs with a reverence Barry Manilow would admire but without any sense of Lucy's preposterousness. She becomes an annoyance, and you start wishing the rest of the group would ditch her. Beka Calkins has what could be the most fun part in the show: the evil temptress Diana (a combination of the Greek goddess and Lady Dracula), who searches for needy souls and seduces them, whatever their gender. But Calkins too plays her part with terminal seriousness and little or no enjoyment or sensuality (her idea of being sensual seems to be to walk very slowly). She's helped by her singing, which, though it goes off pitch at times, is full and rich. And by her spookiness. With her angular face and aversion to smiling unless there's a flashlight in her mouth, she makes it easy to believe that her Diana is one of the undead.