Kenn Parks & Leila Toba in Vampire Lesbians of Sodom. Photo courtesy The Alley Theater.
Vampire Lesbians of Sodom
By Charles Busch
Directed by Scott R. Davis
Review by Janelle Renee Dunn
Entire contents are copyright © 2017, Janelle Renee Dunn. All rights reserved.
“I hope we didn’t shock you too much,” one actor said to me as I was leaving the Alley Theatre’s latest production, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom. I was taken aback by his comment because shock is not what was on my mind. Perhaps it was the stonewall look on my face that would make him feel that way. However, that stonewall look was not one of shock; it was one of confusion from trying to dissect the rather disorganized clutter I had just witnessed onstage.
Vampire Lesbians of Sodom by Charles Busch is a campy tale of two seductive vampires who first meet in ancient Sodom. Embroiled in a centuries long feud as rival bloodsuckers turned actresses; we follow their rivalry from Sodom through the 1920’s Hollywood silent movie era to modern day Las Vegas. Part of the brilliance of this show is that it allows for a company to produce it as big and flashy or as small and minimal as they want. Director Scott R. Davis decided to lean towards the small and minimal approach, which ultimately leads to the downfall of this production.
From the beginning of the show, it felt as if being shocking was more important than the story. With drunken banter with the audience during pre-show to grinding on audience members to a Full Monty-esque curtain call with male actors dressed in boxers with a picture of Donald Trump on the crotch. Playwright Busch even warns that producing this show can be tricky; that no matter how over the top one decides to be, the actors have to keep the central focus on the friendship of these two ladies.
The performances of the cast were eclectic. The strongest performance came from Leila Toba as the virgin turned vampire, Madeline. Her presence onstage truly commanded your attention and was a joy to watch. I really enjoyed, whether intentional or not, the Lil’ Eddie vibe she channeled during the Las Vegas scene. Kenn Parks did well as La Condessa, but did not really becoming convincing until he morphed into the washed-up, raspy voiced star of yesteryear in Las Vegas. Daniel Smith was steady, however, he could project more. However, Phillip Rivera came off as a drunken mess. Through the first half of the show, he floundered around the stage huffing and puffing during each of his lines. Perhaps it was a character choice, but it lasted through two completely different characters. Andy Szuran was comical when not flubbing his lines. Rachel Allen’s performance was stagnate and the only memorable thing about her work was her attempt at an Indian accent at the top of the show. Which, to paraphrase one of Leila Toba’s lines, “What in the white privilege hell?”
The costumes also seemed to be all over the place. Anna Shelton’s design starts off strong during the Sodom sequence, however, things go downhill from there. The 1920’s era and the Las Vegas scene really seemed as if things were thrown together.
I really wanted to enjoy this show. How could one not be excited to see a show with vampires and lesbians in the title? Even though I struggled to enjoy the play, the audience on opening night found it a riot. The great thing about theatre is that it’s subjective, so check out the show for yourself.
Featuring Leila Toba, Kenn Parks, Andy Szuran, Rachel Allen, Daniel Smith, Phillip Rivera
Vampire Lesbians of Sodom
January 12 – 21, 2017
Tickets $30 Cabaret Table seat / $20 General Admission
The Alley Theater
615 West Main Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40202
Janelle Renee Dunn, originally from Duncan, South Carolina, is an actor, singer and teaching artist. She has a MFA in Acting from the University of Louisville and a BA in Theatre (Directing) from Berea College. Before becoming the Performing Arts teacher at Chancey Elementary this school year, Janelle Renee taught drama workshops and drama clubs to students for three years. She also appeared in the title role of a local kid’s touring show, Kylie for President (Drama by George). Janelle Renee is also the Co-Artistic Director for Smoked Apple Theater Group. She recently made her professional directorial debut with SATG’s production of Oh Lord! Mamma Done Burnt the Biscuits. Acting credits include: Click, Clack, Moo (Stage One), ShowBoat (Kentucky Opera), Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill (Bunbury Theatre), Kiss of the Spiderwoman, and Rocky Horror Show (Pandora Productions), Much Ado About Nothing and Becoming Mother’s (Looking for Lilith) and Doubt (Wayward Actors).