Fang Letter

Occasionally, while watching a particularly tedious play, I'll find myself wishing that the characters -- who up to that point have probably been standing around mouthing inanities -- would break into a line dance or maybe begin shouting obscenities or braying like animals. This sort of nonsense happens often, much to my delight, in The Vampires, Harry Kondoleon's socially conscious comedy of manners.

In Mixed Company, which has floundered in recent months with bad script choices and crummy performances, has struck pay dirt with this funny and rarely produced script. Kondoleon's characters are all nuts, and his situations completely implausible: Ian is a theater critic who, after publicly trashing his carpenter/playwright brother's latest play, decides to become a vampire. He bites his wife CC's neck, and she faints just as their goth-teen niece arrives to shoot heroin and listen to a Screamin' Jay Hawkins record. The girl's parents appear and begin to argue about, among other things, the mysterious disappearance of their 4-year-old son. Eventually, Ian promises to rewrite Ed's terrible play, and CC agrees to design the costumes. Much screaming ensues, nearly every word of it amusing and most of it relative to one type of social ill or another.

At one point, Kondoleon has theater critic Ian announce that "many actors get bad reviews, and they just have to learn to live with them," but none of these thespians need worry. Each turns in a worthy performance that captures the playwright's peculiar perspective. As Pat, Kristin K. Hailstone swings from pathetic (her neighbors won't speak to her because her husband displays a light-up Nativity scene on their front lawn every Christmas) to pathological (she wants to kill her sister-in-law for using a better henna rinse than she does). I wish Hailstone worked more often in material this worthy of her talents.

What is it they say about people with beautiful voices reading the telephone book? Martha Brooks could start with the A's and read straight through to the end, and I wouldn't utter a sound to interrupt her. Here, her fine instrument gets a real workout, as she screeches epithets at all around her. I don't know of another local actor who can, with a single line reading, make my sides hurt from laughing. (The line, "You're a cashier!" isn't funny in print, but go hear Brooks read it and you'll see what I mean.)

The only moment more amusing in The Vampires comes when young Alicia Sutton, who calls to mind a smaller, sweeter Drew Barrymore, beans her uncle with a pail full of Jiffy Pop. By that point in the evening, I'd filled a notepad with reasons you should go watch these fine actors perform in a gravely sick and fiercely funny comedy. You may not see another play this curious or this well-acted for some time in this town.

The Vampires continues through Saturday, October 30, at PlayWright's Theatre, 1121 North First Street.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela