1938, 1945, Amir Khalighi, Angelia Weitzman, Annalee Scott, Austria, beauty, Black Box Theater, breathless, Carmilla, danger. unknown, David MacDowell Blue, Deneen Melody, Denise Devin, Douglas Eames, Edgar Allen Poe IV, Elyse Ashton, enchatment, Erotic, Ghost story, Gratz, Hollywood Theater, innocent, Irwin Moskowitz, J.A.G., Joseph Sheridan LeFanu, Katie Jorgenson, Lara Lihiya, Laura Fontaine, lesbian, Love, lover, Macabre, Mark Hein, Mary Ann Van De Car, metaphysical, Nicole Alexandra, NOHO, NOHO arts, NOHO THEATER DISTRICT, NOHO Theatre, pain, power, Randy "Kernel" Long, Richard M. Johnson, Schloss, Seduction, seductress, self discovery, sensual, spell, Styria, tango, Vampire, vampyre, Vanessa Cate, Zombie Joe, Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre Group
Before I begin, I must disclose that I contributed to the “Go Fund Me” for this production. The writer, David and I are friends, and having read an early draft of the script I knew felt I needed to contribute to a staging of Carmilla, if only in a small way. My review is honest and without bias though, I hope y’all enjoy my review, and take the time to see this production.
Carmilla is the latest erotic gothic offering, placed upon the Black Box Theatre alter known as Zombie Joe’s Underground. Carmilla is a deliciously seductive fare, one that will give you nocturnal visions, perhaps even a nightmare…
Carmilla is adapted from the novella by Joseph Sheridan LeFanu, a vampire story that predates Dracula by over two decades. More than just a vampire story, it’s a coming of age piece, one that centers around Laura Fontaine (Lara Lihya), during a pivotal time when a woman comes into her own true self. The story is told in two overlapping parts, the past and present. The settings, both time and location, for this well crafted adaptation become characters themselves. Each providing the necessary undercurrent needed to pull the audience into the spell.
The story opens with Laura listening to the radio, as she receives a caller at the door. Captain Martin (Amir Khalighi) from the United Kingdoms JAG office is looking to interview Laura in regards to her petition to repatriate to her fathers home country. After a few social niceties the story begins to shift to the past. This is where the settings as characters make their appearance. The past, where Laura’s story takes place, is an Austrian schloss (chateau) during the rise of the Third Riech. The present, Laura’s flat in Brittish controlled Gratz, Austria around the end of the war.
Both settings offer keys to what Laura is going through. Nazi controlled Austria is a place of repression, fear, self doubt. All the emotions a young woman might go through as they come of age, particularly with an over protective parent. The present, a sense of relief, as if a great weight has been lifted, though apprehension at the uncertainty the future holds. The same apprehension a young adult might face as they look out on the possibility of a life fully under their own control.
As the story unfolds, both the past and present weave together on stage. Laura recalls the events surrounding the meeting, and untimely parting, of Carmilla (Vanessa Cate). At the start of her story she steps from her apartment and into the past. Captain Martin is left behind, becoming an audience member, viewing her story as if it were playing out in front of him. At one point he even walks around her memory as if seeking a better perspective, a different angle on the events unfolding.
Shifting between the past and present has a unique effect on the viewer. There is an ebb and flow, every cycle pulls the audience further into the story. This push and pull is only enhanced by the Directors’ use of their actors. As Laura leaves the past mid memory, the past freezes in place awaiting her return. When she leaves the present for the past Martian is still there. Acting as a surrogate audience member. Martin, representing the audience viewing Laura’s past. Martin becomes enthralled by Carmilla, and her interactions with Laura, much like the audience he is put under her spell. He serves as the control mechanism, when he raises a question it is a question we would have raised. When he is held breathless we are held breathless.
Carmilla is erotic, it is seduction through control, self discovery, and danger. The unknown is dangerous on an instinctive level, it is also sensual and exciting. Seduction is an art, it must be forceful, yet gentle. The victim/s must be given a chance to breathe however, lest the seducer lose their hold. There are two victims, Laura, and the audience, each must be considered by the seducer, held tightly one moment and released the next. Laura’s, and our, respite comes in the form of her family, and attendants. Fontaine (Edgar Allan Poe IV), her protective father, not quite ready to release her to the wide world. Madame Perradon (Deneen Melody), part servant part governess, whose ghost stories further Laura’s excitement, her sense of anticipation. Then there is Carlsberg (Irwin Moskowitz), a peddler who provides a touchstone to Laura’s past, a shadow of the times, as well as a brief view into the more dangerous aspect of Carmilla.
A review of Carmilla wouldn’t be complete without a sampling of the seductive fare offered up to the gothic alter. It starts with a stolen moment, and powerful heart stopping eye contact. The eyes are the gateway to the soul, and Carmilla knows this. From there confidence is offered, Carmilla lets Laura know she is a singularly important woman, a vision from her dreams in fact. As this tantalizing dance progresses Carmilla even teaches Laura how to tango. Carmilla grants Laura a moment of power, instructing Laura to dip her. In that moment Laura appears to be the predator, eyes moving over Carmilla’s delicate, and beautiful form. Nothing is quite as seductive as power, especially when willingly given.
Unfortunately Carmilla’s spell cannot last forever. Her undoing closes in on her, like a great counter curse set in motion ages before. As one spell ends, another begins though, for Laura is really the enchantress. It’s her story after all, and she has her audience in Captain Martin. She also has a beautiful flatmate, Ingrid Vordenberg (Annalee Scott), a news radio broadcaster, one whom Laura has seduced herself…
Good theatre casts a spell on the audience, once cast only that which is on stage exists. Carmilla does just this. From the moment the lights come up and the radio crackles, only Laura, and her seductive spell exist. She gives us some power over her, in that she reveals her past, only to draw us further into her spell. In the end, you might find yourself longing for the passionate and painful embrace of either Laura or Carmilla. Knowing full well that it would most likely end your existence.
Carmilla, written by David MacDowell Blue, directed by Mark Hein and David MacDowell Blue, runs at Zombie Joe’s Underground in North Hollywood Saturdays and Sundays at 11pm thorugh March 15th.
For more information please visit www.zombiejoes.com
All Photo Credit: Richard M. Johnson.
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