Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond


June 07, 2009

l -r: Carey Peters, Maya Lawson, and Bo Foxworth
Photo: Ed Krieger/Boston Court 2009

It’s been catch-up time for me this weekend, but I did squeeze in a play on Sunday. Unfortunately, it was the wrong one. Courting Vampires, a world premiere by Laura Schellhardt, finished its run at The Boston Court Theater Sunday with a sizable crowd for a last performance matinee. Despite its billing, the play is neither sexy nor very edgy in any way. In fact, it’s a rather straight-forward revenge play desperately in need of some substantial editing. It’s the tale of two sisters – one uptight, Rill played by Carey Peters, and the other a dancing hyperactive free-spirit, Nina played by Maya Lawson. Nina contracts a terminal blood disease that Rill interprets as a sort of vampirism in her inner world and goes on a course to avenge her. Along the way are a number of stock and sometimes amusing scenes with Rill and Nina’s frustration with the world around them in achieving their ends of justice or something like it. A third actor, Bo Foxworth, plays all the men in their lives including the sisters’ father. And, while Schellhardt‘s play does not succumb to the modern theatrical dictum against plot, it is successful at little else.

The biggest drawback is the verbose and lengthy scenes, which carry on well past the point of dramatic necessity or character development. Little is left to the imagination of the audience on either of these points throughout two and a half hours. Worse yet, the material seems incredibly dated. Despite the vampire overlay, there is clearly a reference to a terminal sexually transmitted blood disease, which even in 2009 is hard to see as something other than HIV. It’s this dramatic tweaking of a story about HIV by any other name that gives the play a feeling of being ripped directly from the headlines of 1991. And while there may be a big theater audience just looking for something to tear them away from A Different World reruns, I somehow doubt it. Even Edward Albee realized that HIV as a dramatic source of motivation and angst had been totally played out by the time he finished The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? in 2002. I suppose there could be something more intense in Courting Vampires somewhere, but it needs to be quite a bit darker and more bloody to get there. The production design was excellent, however. Kurt Boetcher, under the direction of Jessica Kubzansky, has put together a very sharp looking production that appears to hide many secrets. In traditional Boston Court style, the set was clever with a floor covered in a matrix of trap doors that mimicked file drawers, which the cast often opened to uncover all sorts of props and escapes. As a representation of the overly structured and regimented world of Rill’s inner life, it works very well. Sadly little else about the production did.

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