nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
October 19, 2006
There are moments in Heartbreak, the new vampire comedy/drama written and directed by Marc Morales, that are gut-wrenchingly hilarious, and others that are gut-wrenchingly scary. Morales, creator of the excellent Galaxy Video, brings his unerring pop-culture aesthetic to the horror film/TV genre, staging with dead-on precision a paean to Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, et al, that's smart and entertaining.
The story, told in flashback, is about a "slayer" named Steven, and his pursuit of the coolest, baddest, evilest vampire of them all, a slick I-don't-give-a-damn specimen known as Sirius. Sirius is currently headquartered in New York, mostly at a trendy nightclub called The Lights, and he's been killing so many people lately that more than one character notes that he seems to be treating the residents of Manhattan as his personal buffet. However, it's not Sirius who sets the main story in motion in Heartbreak: instead, it's his one-time lover Fran, a woman on whom he bestowed eternal life, only to more or less abandon her once she became one of the undead. She decides to create a vampire lover for herself, in the form of hapless human club visitor Andrew. When Andrew's sister Helen realizes that he's missing, she comes to the club herself to investigate. Sirius catches her snooping around and is just about to strike when Steven and a couple of other slayers arrive, right in the nick of time. Helen and Steven thereupon join forces to try to avenge Andrew. But the horrible surprises have only just begun...
Morales does a grand job piling up incidents and bodies here; with makeup/special effects designer Christiaan Koop, he's especially effective at finding ways to authentically spook the audience on a low budget and in very close proximity (the theatre only holds about 40 patrons). Segments where, for example, Sirius extracts the beating heart of one of his victims, are gruesomely cool; the atmosphere of the club, evoked with some simple lighting and an eclectic mix of a couple of decades of dance music, is exciting and helps build the tension as the play rolls along. Set designer D. Craig M. Napoliello uses just a couple of screens and boxes to conjure other locales such as the amusement park where the slayers hang out; though the transitions between scenes could be handled more elegantly, Morales's staging and text always make it clear where we are.
The large cast is uneven, with particularly strong work coming from Isabel Manso as an elderly vampire who sits on a "Vampire Council," trying to run the show in New York but thwarted by the upstart Sirius; Deondra Lyonne as Trisha, a scarily fervent slayer colleague of Steven's; Meghan Merrill as the tough but stubborn Helen; and Vedant Gokhale, double cast as Sirius's brother Noah and a slackerish slayer named Neehad. Tall and strapping Tom Summers, as Steven, looks the part but may be overdoing the Clint Eastwood-no-emotion thing; Robert Yang only fitfully gets the menace that Sirius needs to be a completely compelling villain. But overall the company works well together, and Morales is definitely to be praised for filling his play's roles with such a youthful and ethnically diverse ensemble.
At its best, Heartbreak ranks with the finest of Morales's work, bringing a zingy, funky aesthetic to the stage that celebrates and gently pokes fun at pop iconography at the same time. Even when things slow down in this production, the entertainment value seldom flags. And is there maybe just a hint of sociopolitical commentary imbedded in this tale of an amoral opportunist who everybody keeps talking about stopping but almost nobody actually lifts a finger to try to destroy?