Soon this wave of everything-vampire will pass, right? It has to. But for the nonce, pop culture marches on to the unbeat of the undead, and I can't say I'm immune.
Vampires are everywhere on the big and small screens and the bookshelves. It's somewhat rarer that we get to see them on stage. Nosedive Productions, who've specialized in bringing us the bloody and lurid for a decade now, aim to remedy that with James Comtois' new full-length play The Little One.
Unlike most vampire tales, which turn on supposedly surprising similarities beteen mortal humans and immortal bloodsuckers, this story fully takes the vampires' point of view, stressing the strong pull upon them of the monstrous sides of their natures. Comtois and director Pete Boisvert explore some of the intriguing implications of eternal life. For example, time speeds up for these vamps, so as the centuries pass they have trouble keeping up with the evolution of fashion and, most entertainingly, language. There are also interesting spins on some of the details of vampire lore. Here, religious symbols repel only vamps who were believers as humans.
The always limber Becky Byers rises above sometimes awkward dialogue with a driven performance as Cynthia, the "Little One" of the title, a "doormat" turned into a vamp just after breaking up with her boyfriend. Her crawling, clawing emergence into her new, bloodthirsty world is one of the most affecting and effective scenes in the play. Another transcendent theatrical moment is a clever set-piece showing us the dizzying (to Cynthia) passage of time via a round of disjointed conversations between the new vamp and the humans of her former life, with whom the rebellious newbie is trying to maintain relationships. The finest moment of the second act is, once again, a wordless one, as the vampires mourn the death of one of their number with a kind of vampire-specific self-flagellation ritual. These moments and other smaller ones carry the potential of the troupe's vision.
They only partly realize that potential. The uneven acting isn't the main problem, nor is the slow pacing of some scenes; rather, it's the workmanlike quality of much of the vamps' dialogue. This contrasts with the facility Comtois evinces in the scenes with humans, and with the joyful fun he takes with their future dialects. The vamps' talk is functional but without sparkle, sometimes burdened with clichés that might work in a campier tale—but despite its gothic touches, this isn't camp, it's fundamentally a serious story. As such it's absorbing enough that (until the last couple of scenes) it held my interest. But I wished for more.
Jeremy Goren and Melissa Roth acquit themselves well in multiple supporting roles, and Byers is always a pleasure both as a performer and a choreographer—in fact, more dancing would have been a plus, as she's great at expressing nuanced feeling and layers of meaning through movement. But Rebecca Comtois and Patrick Shearer struggle to make their powerful, immortal characters fully convincing—she, because we don't understand what drives her suave, culture-loving character, and he because his is basically a cartoon. The suspense element—what's the nature of the dangerous feud that simmers between Cynthia's two mentors?—fizzles. And the big-ideas debate that crops up late in the proceedings falls flat, partly due to the leaden direction of the scene in which it takes place, but mainly because it doesn't add anything to the story.
Overall, The Little One is an enjoyable show with a distinct point of view and some excellent scenes—an interesting addition to the vampire canon, but not a home run.
If you go, take heed: there will be blood. The Little One ran through July 10 at the Kraine Theatre, NYC.
Photo credit: Daniel Winters
Originally published as “Theater Review (NYC): The Little One by James Comtois” on Blogcritics.