Where 441 E. Washington St., Syracuse, NY
When Through November 2nd
Review by Max O'Connell
No play with a title as excessive Vampire Lesbians of Sodom makes pretenses to realism, but if it’s to be camp, it should be full-on camp. Rarely Done Productions’ version of the play suffers not because it’s hammy and ridiculous, but because it’s not hammy or ridiculous enough.
Charles Busch’s popular Off-Broadway satire follows vampiresses La Condesa (Julia Berger) and Madeleine (Christopher James in drag), from ancient Sodom to 1920s Hollywood to 1980s Las Vegas.
A victim of La Condesa’s bite, Madeleine spends eternity as her rival as the two steal each other’s lovers and, later, limelight as they become rising stars on the stage and screen. But the two have more than each other to worry about- there’s also vampire hunters and, worse, the dreaded inevitability of fading star-power.
It’s a purposefully absurd set-up, and the second of the short play’s three scenes goes to even more outlandish extremes involving cross-dressing actors (J. Allan Orton), psychotically ambitious starlets (Sharon Sorkin), a former child-star/murderer (Scott Ferrante) and a gossip-writer with a secret agenda (Gennaro Parlato).
Yet the show feels muted where it should be outrageous. Only about half of the performers are capable of the high-energy comedy the show requires, and even the better actors are hamstrung by a weak scene partner.
That’s the case with Derek Potocki and Junior Morse, who open the play as a pair of strapping young guards tasked to bring a virgin sacrifice (James) to an all-powerful succubus (Berger), but who are distracted by the former’s attraction to the latter.
It’s a funny set-up, and Potocki approaches the role with the level of playfulness that camp requires. Pity that Morse’s delivery and action project nothing: not fear, not anger, not even a simple objective of “leave the room”.
It sets the stage for the bizarrely uneven push-pull relationship between the two leads. Berger vamps it up enjoyably as the domineering La Condesa. She’s perhaps still a bit too calm for a role that asks for excess, but there’s control to her performance that more than makes up for it.
James’ entrance in scene one is an enjoyable reveal- his face is initially hidden to hide that he’s a man- but as soon as he opens his mouth, the play starts to go terribly wrong. James plays at naiveté the way bad improv groups play at being children. It’s awkward, unfunny, and painful to watch.
He’s a bit better in the later scenes when Madeleine joins the undead, but he still doesn’t have the confidence of his co-lead or the delirious camp energy of the better supporting players (Ferrante, Orton). The inadequate performances and strangely indifferent direction take an offbeat comedy and turn it into something that feels like nothing at all.