It’s hard to take “Such Things as Vampires” seriously even though the new show at People’s Light takes itself very seriously. It argues that we could learn plenty about ourselves if we treated vampires with love and compassion because after all, there’s a vampire in all of us. Or something like that.
OK, my summary’s not precise. But this “folk-punk Dracula inoculation,” as it preciously calls itself, is impossible to understand from the get-go. That’s when over-amplification tramples the first of several songs, assuring that you cannot make out a full single line of the lyrics. (Sound design by Lee Kinney.) Later, when you can understand some of the songs, you may not be sure why they’re there – when, for instance, a character sings repeatedly and loudly that “there must be something in my head.”
Not much, I suspect, in this vampire tale with no stage blood, few fangs and plenty of unfounded raw emotion. “Such Things as Vampires” is touted as having a feminist perspective – the chief characters are two women in love, the show alludes unclearly to the vampire culture as a conspiracy to entrap women and the production lists two “equity, diversity and inclusion advocates” on its creative team.
That’s pretty heavy for a vampire outing in which the six-member cast is assembled as a punk band called “The Preventers,” here to prevent the audience from becoming members of The Undead. As we walk into the show, our hands are stamped with a black blotch of ink – Why? Who knows? – and we’re each given a stone. (We learn later that the stones have magical qualities, but they are much ado about very little in the show.) The characters often step up to microphones to sing, concert-style, between acting out pieces of this 90-minute tale that uses Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” as inspiration.
The script’s Preventers are a traveling band of musicians who spread the word of “the Book of Mina,” a story they believe will discourage general malevolence. In the book two best friends, Mina and Lucy, become lovers – it’s never certain whether this is Platonic or not, but there seems to be a sort of Brokeback Mountain Moment in the midst of scenes with much blowing wind. (Two fans sit at the stage-front.) Mina has a boyfriend, Lucy has suitors, and somewhere out there Dracula, the Beast, is waiting to change their lives.
A story does emerge, eventually. Mina follows her heart, embarking on a journey to find a missing Lucy, who’s either been overtaken by the vampire, an evil doctor, a Texan or all of them.
None of it is scary enough for a vampire story but oddly, none of it is really staged for fright by director Stuart Carden, among the show’s creators in a People’s Light project experimenting with new forms of musical theater. Four people conceived, wrote and scored this show that tells itself awkwardly, explains its premise vaguely and feels aimless: Carden, plus People’s Light producing director Zak Berkman, composer-actor Jessie Fisher and locally-based theater artist Mary Tuomanen.
They have lofty aspirations – a press release quotes Tuomanen saying that “Such Things as Vampires” lets an audience “consider transformative justice and asks how we might make a revolution … as gorgeous, fantastic and rainbow-colored as we are.” Now that’s some show. Please tell me where it’s playing.
“Such Things as Vampires” runs through Oct. 31 at People’s Light, 39 Conestoga Road, Malvern. 610-644-3500 or peopleslight.org.