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The Vampires

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THE VAMPIRES

Immediate Theatre Company

Don't let the title of The Vampires scare you--the play isn't quite as dumb as it sounds. Harry Kondoleon has attempted to write a farce about people who have been supported by illusions that are now collapsing. As they tumble headlong into the snake pit of reality they scream and flail at each other, but before they hit bottom they manage to grab onto yet another illusion.

The play revolves around two dissimilar brothers. Ian is a cynical drama critic who has dabbled in art and other forms of self-expression without success. He is bored and unfulfilled. "I am desperate," he tells his uncomprehending 13-year-old niece. "I do not understand anything anymore. I've got that old-fashioned bug--nausea."

After one of his vicious reviews causes an actor to commit suicide, Ian decides to become totally despicable and becomes a vampire, the ultimate symbol of evil. He bites his wife in the neck, laps up her blood, and starts sleeping all day.

Meanwhile, his brother Ed, a successful cabinetmaker, is enduring some mid-life discontent of his own, and tries to find fulfillment in what is for him an equally bizarre way--he decides to write a play. The reason for his aberrant behavior? He wants to please Mommy and Daddy.

"All their lives they've put a lot of emphasis on intellectual achievement, and their gods have always been artists," Ed tells his wife. "My parents have always nurtured the possibility that Ian would turn out to be an artist. . . . So things haven't worked out that way and I'm picking up the task."

Naturally, Ed asks his brother to review a workshop production of the play, but when Ian calls it "a pea brain's peephole into politics," Ed becomes homicidal. After bashing Ian's head against the stairs--which provides the budding vampire with a taste of his own blood--Ed demands that Ian hold another workshop production in his own living room and invite lots of influential people to see it.

Under threat of further violence, Ian agrees to the demand, but only if he can rework the play a bit. Ed agrees, but becomes infuriated again when he sees how his brother has "essentialized" the script into a single page of dialogue. By the time guests start to arrive, chaos has erupted.

The play is propelled by Ian's theory that everyone on earth is after a "transcendent state of being."

"This impulse to transcend comes from hating life," he says. "Now, in what ways do people try to transcend? Well, the first things that come to mind are alcohol, drugs. . . . War's a good one, general insurrection, criminal acts--definitely criminal acts--and then of course art, sex, and madness." He concludes that evil is the "premier transcendent state of being," which is why he is pursuing it.

Kondoleon contrasts Ian's perverted brand of mysticism with the more conventional sort espoused by Porter, the leader of a local ashram, who considers Ed, Ian, and their wives "small struggling flies on the spoiling meat of this world." Porter decides that Ed's 13-year-old drugged-out daughter Zivia is a mystic, although her only apparent ambition is to sing like Screamin' Jay Hawkins.

Throughout all this, Kondoleon is flirting with a potent idea: What would it be like to live without illusions? How would people find meaning and satisfaction without worshiping god or art or some other icon?

Unfortunately, Kondoleon backs away from this topic. Ian's conclusion about the meaning of life is so lame it sounds like sarcasm: "The important thing, Ed, is to express yourself to the fullest as you've attempted to do. . . . That's all the fulfillment we can expect in life--whether that be through your work or family or whatever!"

Kondoleon's satire degenerates into silliness. Whatever tension the play generated in the first act is quickly dissipated in a quest for facile humor in the second.

Ian is by far the most interesting figure in this play, and Richard Wharton rips into the role with so much zest and style that he almost succeeds in concealing the vacuum at the center of this play. Paul Raci adopts a similar strategy; he emphasizes Ed's penchant for violence by remaining loud and intimidating throughout--which definitely generates tension.

Both wives are meant to be twits, so I guess the actresses--Peggy Goss as Ian's wife CC, and Joan Schwenk as Ed's wife Pat--should be credited for playing them that way. But Yvonne Suhor manages to add an interesting touch of mystery to Zivia's vapid personality. Harry Althaus brings just the right amount of pretension to the role of Porter.

Kondoleon is on to something: people are, indeed, compelled to transcend their mundane existence, but trying to transcend their existence can be a gesture of contempt for life as it is. "Oh, wouldn't it be nice to achieve whatever there is to achieve in this life once and for all and get it over with so there would be nothing left?" Ian sighs.

But this observation, along with a few good lines of dialogue, is quickly swamped by a banal narrative. True, The Vampires isn't just another campy monster spoof, but it's a lot less than it could have been.

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