At ATW, 'Vampire Lesbians' Run Grandly Amok
So you're alone and undead in the world, your hometown
having been destroyed by the wrath of God, with your appetite for fresh virgin
blood eternally unsated. In
Charles Busch's riotous campfest Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, it's only natural
to resume a bloodsucking career as a glamorous 1920s silent movie star and a
The Actors' Theatre of Washington is currently presenting Vampire Lesbians alongside Joe Orton's dark, dark comedy Ruffian on the Stair as an evening of one-acts aptly titled Tramps and Vamps. However, Ruffian turns out to be an under-spiced appetizer to a grandly filling entrée.
Not that Ruffian on the Stair is a bad play. On the contrary, Orton's satirical writing gleams like the blade of a brand-new razor. However, Matty Griffiths awkwardly juggles the plays tone, so that the full volume of Orton's puckishly caustic voice is only heard in spurts.
The play concerns a middle-aged couple named Joyce (Rosemary
Regan) and Michael (John C. Bailey). A
petty criminal and a reformed tart, they live their lives with a veneer of
bourgeois civility cracked open by the arrival of a young hustler named Wilson
The play is billed in production notes as a "dark-comedy noir," and the play has elements of black comedy, psychological thriller and drama. Yet the one-act isn't particularly moving, holds only sporadic tension and is overall lacking in laughs. There are some hilarious lines too; during one rather unsavory sex scene, Joyce cries out "Not in front of the goldfish!," whom she cares about more than the dead young man in question. This is not a children's play; it's cynical, acidic stuff and Griffiths seems to be tiptoeing around this potential comic landmine, afraid to lose the tension and dramatic content. Emphasizing the humor of their actions might help the audience care more about these morally warped characters, if not necessarily for them; laughter can be a form of identification.
Regan has some affecting moments as Joyce, but excessively speaks her lines in a shrill yelp; her performance could benefit from more variety. Ivey lacks menace as the emotionally troubled hustler, whose feelings for his brother aren't entirely fraternal. Bailey gives the strongest performance of the three. His Michael is a quivering mass of abusive anger and wounded male pride.
After a somewhat dour first one-act, the second is pure camp
frivolity. Vampire Lesbians of Sodom is
a mix of Cecil B. DeMille epic, Hammer horror film, Vegas revue and Fire Island
Halloween party. Directed with sprightly
wickedness by Jeffrey Johnson, it's a delectable little showeven if it's too
slight not to wear out its welcome a bit in the last few minutes or so.
Vampire Lesbians starts off in ancient
Of course, La Condesa is also an émigré from ancient
Sodom, and after Madeline again evades death at the hands of a frumpy gossip
columnist/vampire huntress, the two wind up in Vegas as, respectively, a star and a cleaning lady. Naturally, they end
a millennia-old feud with the realization they need each other....but not before Madeline (in a towering pink beehive) has lip-synced with the ensemble through "Don't Tell Mama."
Although having two male divas in drag might have made the
play even funnier, it works with stars of opposing genders. Hammerly, fluttering from dewy ingénue to
pickled harridan, has unerring comic timing, and Ingvarsson, with her flashing
eyes, smacking lips and extravagant gestures, is reminiscent of Bette Midler at
her most flamboyantly self-mocking. Their funniest scene occurs in the
For both plays, the sets of Greg Stevens and Brendon
Vierrawhich cleverly utilize a screen for projectionsrange from effectively
tacky (in the 60s sense of the word) to delightfully gaudy. The same can be said of Stevens' costumes.
Ruffian on the Stairs may not be performed with quite as much panache as Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, but by the end of the evening, it's hard not to feel at least somewhat gorged on theatre.
Photos by Ray Gniewek
1) John C. Bailey and Rosemary Regan in Ruffian on the Stair
2) Nana Ingvarsson in Vampire Lesbians of Sodom
3) Rick Hammerley and ensemble in Vampire Lesbians of Sodom