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‘Vampires’ Has Bite At Under Ground

Tuesday April 15, 2003

Frank Rich, the longtime New York Times drama critic, couldn’t seem to find anything good to say about Harry Kondoleon’s “The Vampires” when it appeared 14 years ago in New York. Judging by the production of Shotgun Players that opened Saturday night at La Val’s Subterranean, it looks as if Rich was just having a bad night.  

Be that as it may, Shotgun has taken the same play and created an amusing, if largely indescribable, evening’s entertainment which, after a slow start, turns out to be well worth the price of admission. 

The lead vampire of the play’s title is a drama critic, Ian (Patrick Dooley), who has just been fired after writing a review that caused an actor to jump out a hotel window. He has also made the injudicious gesture of publishing an assault on his brother Ed’s (Dave Maier) first play. Perhaps sensibly, Ian decides that he has turned into a vampire before Ed shows up to discuss the review. Ian goes to live in the cellar — appearing from time to time in search of his proper quota of blood. 

The play’s other characters accept Ian’s transformation with rather more equanimity than one would expect — particularly his wife, CC (Beth Donohue). She sums up the situation with, “You’re going through a difficult career transition period.” 

CC, like her sister-in-law, Pat ( Kimberly Wilday), begins as a traditional female stereotype and, as with the other characters, goes off in various ways into a never-never land of such remarkable logic that one really doesn’t care how little sense the narrative makes. The ideas are just too funny. Granted, there are a number of highly loaded and far from funny issues that pop in and out throughout what — for want of a better word — must be referred to as the plot. In this production the darkness fades, and it is the absurdist comedy that remains. 

When Ed storms in to demonstrate his displeasure with Ian’s lousy review, Ian promptly recognizes that there was more merit to the play than he had originally seen, and the two couples unite to produce an edited version. It’s a decision that leads to a second act in which the adult characters all appear clad in various versions of the American flag.  

I mean, why not? 

In the meantime, Ed and Pat’s 13-year-old druggie daughter, Zivia (Nina Auslander), has come on the scene to provide as much torment as she can to her parents. And for further confusion, the founder of the local Ashram, Porter (Robert Martinez), appears, chanting away, with a number of ideas that will certainly prove to be of some quite tangible benefit for himself.  

The ensemble is the strength of the production; the actors play so effectively as a group that it seems inappropriate to linger on any individual performance. There really are no stars in this production. Curiously, Kondoleon wrote a relatively brief opening which is structured quite differently from the rest of the play, focusing lengthily on one actor. It is misleading as well as the weakest part of the production, since the bulk of the play shifts skillfully from one to another of the cast members, giving each about the same amount of time and attention.  

This litany of facts may present an appearance of more coherence to the action on stage than is actually experienced by the audience or, more precisely, by the characters. 

They change quite abruptly from one mood or situation to another with no apparent need to make a bridge or any logical resolution of any particular issue. One couple, for example, raises the issue of divorce, and then never mentions the subject again.  

The curious thing is that that kind of logical dead end doesn’t matter. It is the glitter of the words that carries this play and makes it worth seeing.