SALT LAKE CITY — Known for their light-hearted, family-friendly parodies, the Off Broadway Theater in downtown Salt Lake is putting on one of their famously farcical Halloween productions, starring that prince of darkness himself, Count Dracula, as played for the 21st time by Eric Jensen.
In this particular play, entitled Y-light, Dracula is pitted against another popular vampire in today’s culture, Edmund Sullen. The Count is at first pleased to discover that vampires are once again revered in the public eye, but is disgusted to discover that Edmund’s story is a sappy romance, full of vampires that don’t drink human blood, but instead stand around—shudder—sparkling. Along with his Edmund-hungry vampire brides, Dracula enters the world of Edmund’s story, hoping to bring down the pale reflection of the monster he thinks his kind should be.
The play fondly pokes fun at the popular book series Twilight, a set of vampire romance novels. In it, a clumsy, expressionless girl, “Ella,” played by Alisa Rodgers, falls in love with a vampire boy, played by Zach Reynolds. Dracula narrates much of the play, reading from the book as the story unfolds, live-action style, on the stage.
Starting off the play was a musical number, “Seasons of Blood,” a parody of the Rent song, “Seasons of Love.” It was perhaps the best number in the show, as the cast sounded good when blended together in a chorus, and the audience laughed seconds after the opening chords. One singer, Shealyn Kwan-Smith, who played Malice, stuck out as the strongest voice in the cast.
The play is cleverly written by Patrick Gibbs and Eric Jensen, and is one of the strongest shows the Off Broadway has done in a number of years. The plot is engaging and never convoluted, and the characters are all funny and fleshed out. Kylee Wood, as director, wonderfully guided her cast through the material. Though some were better at capturing the theater’s particular brand of humor than others, it was clear that Wood was able to bolster the less experienced actors with direction that allowed each to play to their strengths. She also made some wise casting decisions in casting Rodgers as Ella and Alexis Owen as Fangoria, the head of Dracula’s wives.
Rodgers and Owen delivered strong performances that rivaled Jensen’s for energy and clarity. Their characters were fully formed, their choices deliberate and well-executed. I thoroughly enjoyed Owen’s take on her character, complete with a Transylvanian accent and a fervent lust for the hero of the story. She was fully engaged, down to her goofy facial expressions and delivery of each of her jokes. Rodgers is a gifted comedic actor as well, playing Ella with levels that varied from bubbly and enthusiastic to simpering and passive to desperate and psychotic. One moment where her talents shone was the scene wherein Edmund leaves her in the woods, telling her he will never return. Rodgers throws herself into a tour de force performance of a display of grief that left me gasping for breath.
Another performance of note was Kwan-Smith as Malice, Edmund’s sister, who takes a bizarre and enthusiastic liking to Ella. Kwan-Smith was uproariously funny and committed to her role 115%. As the show’s villain and lead character, Jensen was in his element as the Count, playing with the audience in key moments, improvising with them and with his fellow actors, and deftly mingling humor for the adults along with something for the kids.
One thing this show could have benefited from was fewer actors on stage. At times, the smaller stage looked crowded to the point of over-flowing, and I found myself concerned during some of the dance numbers that actors were going to run into one another. The choreography by Sunny Simkins, however, was some of the best I have seen at this theater. One or two of the musical numbers, though, could have been cut, such as “Hunky As a Wolf,” and “If I Was Your Girlfriend.” They were placed in such a way that they dragged down the pace of the show.
As is the usual at the Off Broadway, the play featured some gags that I found particularly funny. A Charlie Brown bit at the beginning played well, as well as the scene where Ella nearly gets hit by a bus, a scene where she and Edmund are running through some very animated trees, and a gag at the end involving a balloon under a wedding dress that left me in stitches. This play is a fun way to celebrate the upcoming holiday with the whole family, and is definitely worth seeing with a bag of popcorn in hand.