It's a pity that the gore in Just Us Served could not be dished up in a more stylish fashion, but a visit to the catacombs of the Interlude Theatre offered an interesting sidelight on an Off-Off-Broadway subculture. The Vampyr Theatre openly recruits vampires (even, shudder! over the Internet!) and plants them in the audience, especially if they show more than a little feminine pulchritude.
Once trapped in a Commedia del Sangue performance, held hostage by vampire M.C. Troy Acree (aka Grau Orlock), recruits run the risk of being publicly drained of blood or, worse, made to sit on a jury to determine whether unmasked FBI agent Schrader (Michael Maloney) will live or die. (Schrader and Orlock argue their cases in front of judge Zianubi, played by Sam Mercer as a sort of I, Claudius/Caligula type, with curly wig and body shirt. Kind of cute for a reconstructed, 6000-year-old-Egyptian.) Sokol embroiders Orlock's harangues with witticisms of various degrees of funniness as well as digressions on such arcana as how vampires can speak, if they can't breathe. Orlock's henchcreatures, notably Drew Blood (Sara Moon), Vena Cava (Jennifer Salmons), and Igor Mortis (Tony Scarpa, also responsible for the special effects), further embellished the picture ("Ugh! Spinal fluid! Get me something to wash this taste out of my mouth!")
The production suffered from weak writing. All the one-liners in the world need a story to hang from or they just lie down and play dead. A story in the theatre can be told in many ways, but not usually by needed characters' just appearing in the wings when the action stops, so that someone has to go out, drag them on, and then explain their presence to get the action moving again. A story in the theatre is told by arousing and satisfying expectation - through suspense, in other words.
The production also suffered from weak staging. Some special effects plum didn't work, like a throwaway levitation. The effects that did work, like neck-biting and stabbing, tended to be overdone and were obvious after the first time. The actors milled about with little purpose, thereby violating the iron rule of Focus. (That the director, who is in charge of maintaining the stage picture, should place himself in its center indicates a paucity of resources, a desperate egotism, or sheer ignorance.) (One effect did work - a disappearance that depended on the eye's being led astray for several seconds by the incidental turning on of a fog machine.)
This production has much potential, but it needs to be rebuilt from the bottom - i.e., the story and characters - up, embedding appropriate special effects at some later stage. And staging it as a play rather than some kind of rambling happening/monolog will increase its entertainment value.
Of course, it could be said that cult theatre doesn't care about such conservative values as story structure, characterization, and showmanship; that cult theatre is for those ignorant of traditional theatre (a cynical attitude toward this audience). But traditional theatre values got that way because theatre people - from ancient Greeks to Samuel Beckett - found out that's how they could entertain their ordinary neighbors.
Also featuring Jessica Turner, Krystyn Ingram, Imogen Mary Sully, Nathan Eckenrode, Rachel Scott, David Purves, Kim Dullaghan, Anna De Lun. Music by Ted Dailey and Tony Sokol. Costumes, Marcia Canestrano. Lights/Sound, Evelyn Silva.
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Copyright 1997 John Chatterton