nytheatre.com review by Pete Boisvert
July 15, 2007
Absurd humor is very tricky to pull off on stage. There's a constant danger of losing the coherency of the play to its own silliness. Unfortunately, Greg Machlin's Bloody Lies, playing at the Midtown International Theatre Festival, falls into this trap again and again.
Clem Vanrick and his mother Elsie live together in remote Bareneck, Maine. As the play opens, they are six months behind on their rent and are facing eviction from Landlady Doris, who wants to convert their home into a lesbian porn factory. Elsie reveals to her son that he is a descendant of the VonRichtenstein family in Rachvorgia, a small remote country in Eastern Europe. With his faithful sidekick and best friend Barney in tow, Clem sets off to visit the VonRichtensteins where he'll be able to claim his share of the family fortune and save himself and his mother from eviction.
When Clem and Barney arrive in Rachvorgia, we discover that Count VonRichtenstein VII, his daughter, and pretty much everyone else in the country are vampires. In fact, as the human population has been reduced to almost zero, the vampire clan is rapidly running out of food. The Count concocts a plan to use Clem's aid in relocating to America in order to find more food for his brood. Clem gamely signs up for the Count's plan, oblivious to the monsters around him, but his attentions are held rapt by the Count's daughter, the beautiful, mysterious, and ultimately undead Nina.
Samantha Schectman's production is sparse. The set consists almost solely of rehearsal cubes, configured and reconfigured around the space to create Clem's house, the Count's castle and various other locales. This could have been a strong asset; the stripped-down look of the play allows the audience to bounce from one scene to the next with a minimum of interruption. Unfortunately, Schectman's staging is clumsy and her grasp of the play's throughline seems shaky.
The cast throw themselves into their roles with abandon. Gabe Belyeu stands out as Renfield, flitting about the stage in an unsecured straight-jacket and stealing scene after scene. Thomas Lash and Elaine Matthews deliver solid, exciting performances as Count VonRichtenstein and his daughter Nina. Sadly, the human characters don't fare as well. Michael Buckley's Clem and Antonia Marrero's Elsie come off as flat, two-dimensional characters, and Marlene Morreis's Buffy/Lara Croft-inspired Vampire Hunter lurking around the corners of the play never feels fully realized.
Bloody Lies embraces absurdity at every moment. At times this serves the production well, landing individual moments of hilarity. Too often though the play resorts to silliness for its own sake, sacrificing story, plot, and character for the quick laugh. The play aspires to be a synthesis of Dracula and Monty Python, but it never achieves the gothic horror of the former, nor the clever wit of the latter. I wanted to like this production, but in the end it comes off as incoherent, with the performers apparently having a better time than the audience.