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Theatre Review by Howard Miller

Rendah Heywood and Carla Langley
Photo by Alex Beckett

How fortunate, should you happen to be a vampire, to have a human protector, one who is sworn to keep you safe from the killing sunlight and stakes to the heart, who is even willing to let you sip on her blood from time to time in order to stave off "the Hunger." Thus it is with Eve (Carla Langley), the pubescent vampire, and her beloved Tabby (Rendah Heywood) in Joseph Wilde's Cuddles at 59E59 Theaters.

Cuddles, a production of Arch 468 and Ovalhouse as part of the Brits Off Broadway Festival, is part gothic fairy tale and part psychological probing of two deeply damaged individuals, where it pays to heed Tabby's off-hand warning that "here be monsters."

Eve, a young teenager, has lived her entire life in a filthy, windowless attic room, with only a bedstead and a child-size table and chair by way of furniture, and a pair of slop buckets in lieu of bathroom facilities. Although she comes across as being physically and cognitively competent, she is completely dependent on Tabby to take care of her, and everything she knows of the world stems from what Tabby tells her about it. As far as Eve is concerned, witches, dragons fairy tale princesses ensconced in castles, and even Harry Potter are quite real. She dare not ever consider leaving this safe zone; the world is simply not a welcoming place for a young vampire like herself.

Between the routines and rituals the pair has developed for themselves over the years —supported by a rigid set of rules and the occasional use of a retraining leash that ties Eve to the bed when she challenges Tabby's authority —this mode of living has allowed them to function. Tabby, who is perhaps 15 years older, even manages to hold down a high-powered job in the outside world. But she is starting to grow weary of maintaining it all, and has even allowed for the possibility of falling in love —and Eve is becoming rather an awkward inconvenience. If only she can find a way to introduce Eve a bit more to the reality she has withheld from her all of her life, before their shared experience of abuse, neglect, and co-dependence (the details of which are meted out gradually) completely destroys them.

Rebecca Atkinson-Lord directs the 75-minute work with a sharp eye on maintaining a balance between fantasy and delusion, a mix between a gothic horror story and the psychologically disturbing tale of the sort of walled-off lives depicted in Flowers in the Attic. The dreary-looking set design by James Turner and Pablo Baz's creepy lighting help to maintain this balance, in which the attic room remains present as a reflection of Tabby's mental state even as we see her in overlapping workplace scenes.

In truth, one may long for some final confrontation to plunge things over the cliff, like the fiery death of Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca. But Ms. Langley and Ms. Heywood, who originated their respective roles in Britain, give excellent performances, complementing one another with great skill that contrasts Eve's devolving innocence with Tabby's equally devolving tough edginess, befitting the quietly sardonic ending the playwright has provided in lieu of a conflagration.

Through June 28
Running time: 80 minutes with no intermission
59E59 Theater C, 59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: TicketCentral

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