Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Vampire Lesbians of Sodom
Also see Richard's recent review of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
Charles Busch's fast-paced comic epic from 1984 is a rainbow-colored octopus of gay pride, slithering satirically into our hearts and embracing us on almost every possible level. But what is satire?
It's "what closes Saturday night," playwright and director George S. Kaufman famously grumbled. To me, it's when we watch people on TV watching TV: satire comments subversively on us, just like the former guy, a very dark W.C. Fields-like character who seemed to bring out the worst in everyone. For Busch, in this case, satire begins with the story of a vain pagan goddess, seeking a virgin sacrifice in the biblical twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. And it's all portrayed in a manner reminiscent of Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 film The Ten Commandments, with the melodramatic acting styles of Charlton Heston and Anne Baxter combined.
And then, after that sacrifice, we flash forward to another life-or-death confrontation, this time set in the silent film era of Hollywood. The posing and attitudes are heightened, like some secret convocation of Disney villainesses. And ultimately, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom takes us to Reagan-era Las Vegas as we complete our journey with a pair of immortal bloodsuckers, across the Anthropocene.
Sarajane Clark (formerly Sarajane Alverson) is funnier and more intricately nuanced than ever in this romp. Opposite her, Xander Huber puts the "vamp" in vampire as a female victim offered up to the succubus of Sodom (Ms. Clark). And this twig-like girl will reappear in subsequent eras to pursue her undead mistress throughout this sharp-fanged triptych.
>It all begins (just like Hamlet!) with guards on their overnight watch. Actor Nara (formerly Shannon Nara) and the justifiably confident Rachel Bailey set up the first scene, clad in togas and breastplates. (The outstanding costumes are by Colleen Michelson.) Nara's clumsy-yet-balletic business with long wooden staves is a miniature master class in comedy, where the performer is increasingly perplexed at their predicament. Both performers will reappear as chorus boys in neon gym clothes in the final "Vegas" scene.
In between, in a 1920s Hollywood mansion, Victor Mendez grabs comedy by the small parts as a matinee idol intent on recovering his virginal girlfriend (Greta Johnson, who is also this show's choreographer) from the bloodsucking grasp of La Condesa (Ms. Clark). Mr. Huber (formerly a virgin) returns as that thousands-year-old girl from Gomorrah, now conspiring to steal roles (and lovers) from her former succubus. Sean Seifert is delightfully baroque as the butler Etienne. And Rachel Bailey returns as a deliciously coy Hollywood reporter, with a few secrets of her own.
Finally, as the epic races to a close, choreographer Johnson gets to work in a funny bit of her own in her backstory as a Young Republican in Vegas. It all ends a bit abruptly, but satisfyingly. Brazilian revivals of this play have reportedly included more musical numbers (in addition to a neon-colored dance rehearsal near the end). But when you have comic actors like this, under a terrific director like Mr. Bell, the whole thing just sings on its own.
Vampire Lesbians of Sodom runs through June 24, 2023, at the Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave., St. Louis MO. Runtime is about 70 minutes. For tickets and information, please visit www.straydogtheatre.org.