The setup: In the last of the three installments of Soul Invictus' Summer of Soul series, Lucas Gomez' one-act play Moonbeam & the Vampire Girl is followed by a one-man show by Andrew Eninger, The Last Castrato.
The execution: Moonbeam & the Vampire Girl is a low-key treatment of a fascinating premise: What do our imaginary friends do when we're not busy with them (besides, you know, live in the headboard or whatever), and what if they met one another? The IFs of two very different little girls run into each other on whatever plane they're on, sort of like two nannies on a playground bench, and converse in a boring and repetitive manner in Gomez' play.
The performances, by Kellie Dunlap and Shelby Wilson, are earnest, energetic, and distinctive, and Moonbeam's costume is really something: rainbow-striped tights and mini-tunic with unicorn tee on a tall, buxom woman. It inspired both envy and mild nausea.
There is some generic insight about lonely and weird children in the script, but no real aha! moments.
The Last Castrato is a compelling, suspenseful story told to the audience entirely by one of its main characters. Kaitlin O'Neal has directed Franc Gaxiola with restraint and precision, and he has us in the palm of his hand as he relates an epic that's part fanciful lullaby and part shocking, stylized horrorfest while all completely true (in the world of the play, I mean).
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In both subject matter and tone, it made me think of John Irving, Poe, Peter Greenaway, Vikas Swarup (author of the novel on which Slumdog Millionaire was based), and other masters of the emotional grotesque, but it's also like nothing I've ever seen or heard before. Gaxiola plays a character who, without genitals, family, friends, or legitimate job skills, devotes his considerable gumption to his childhood sweetheart and one true love, living more in the first half of his life than most of us ever do.
The Verdict: The acting and direction of Castrato put it in that rarefied circle of performance experiences that will stick with you forever. Moonbeam is a fun bonus, like dessert first.
Moonbeam & the Vampire Girl and The Last Castrato continue through Saturday, August 25, at Soul Invictus, 1022 Grand Avenue. Tickets, $10 in advance and $15 at the door, are going fast for the closing weekend, and the space is small; order here. Or call 602-214-4344 for more information.