Entertainment » Theatre

Vampire Christmas

by Adam Brinklow
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Dec 3, 2018
A scene from "Vampire Christmas," at the EXIT Theatre through December 15.
A scene from "Vampire Christmas," at the EXIT Theatre through December 15.  (Source:Jay Yamada)

In the program for "Vampire Christmas," at the EXIT Theater, co-writer Stuart Bousel imagines audience members asking, "Why would anyone write a play about vampires celebrating Christmas?"

On the contrary, we wonder why someone didn't write this sooner. And possibly even why anybody ever writes anything else.

Regular EXIT contributors Allison Page and Bousel spent nearly a year penning this curdled Christmas comedy, while newcomer director Alejandro Torres summons it to the stage.

In a surreal pageant, downtrodden vampire royalty Marjean (a deceptively vulnerable and plaintive Laura Doming) takes it on herself to organize the gang's one-hundred-and-something-year-old annual Christmas party.

The vampires—who are part extended family, part college reunion crew, and part abusive poly relationship—are a somewhat listless lot, most of them equally unsure why they celebrate Christmas and also why they bother doing anything else either.

The set establishes the motif right away: disused antiques covered in sheets, like cadavers nobody ever bothered to recover.

Oddly enough there's not a Christmas tree in sight. Maybe the ensemble is supposed to be unclear on the concept, or maybe the fairly sparse holiday decor indicates their marginal enthusiasm. Seems like a missed opportunity for Gothic ornaments either way.

Like any holiday gathering, there's drama and hijinks in equal turns. Marjean schemes to use the occasion to win back her ex-, Theodore (clown Sam Bertken, here playing things mostly straight and with barely restrained gallows expressions). Instead, she's scandalized when he brings his new partner, a werewolf (Wera von Wulfen), to the getaway.

This provokes Sharon (Amitis Khouraji, previously in the brilliant but tragically titled "MacBitch" at the EXIT), the group's resident awkwardly racist relative, who is shunned by polite society for her vampire supremacist politics.

Whereas Georgette (Megan Briggs, easily the most natural-seeming of the eight-person cast) is a soft-touch, compassionate type of monster, mostly invested in her happy-go-lucky swamp creature boyfriend —more on that in a minute.

The first important takeaway about "Vampire Christmas" is that it's irresistibly funny. So much so that certain opening night laughs might not have finished echoing yet.

Clearly, the MVP on that front is the swamp monster, played by Elliot Lieberman, who previously filled in as the meathead Athenian in "The Congresswomen" at the EXIT in May.

That was pretty funny, but "Vampire Christmas" hands him the role of a lifetime as a cheerful fisherman too unselfconscious to even notice he's treated like a freak. You can probably carve this one on Lieberman's tombstone someday.

The second big qualifier about "Vampire Christmas" is that it's one of the most overwritten shows staged in San Francisco in years.

Despite the seemingly flighty concept, the show clocks in at more than two hours, much of it filled with long, introspective monologues about the past, like rogue "Game of Thrones" scenes that wandered out of their natural habitat and somehow ended up here.

Almost everyone in the eight-person cast gets at least one semi-soliloquy, and the self-reflection (assuming vampires have self-reflections?) eventually grows solid.

Madcap comedy scenes, like the bit where the vampires descend into a "Fear and Loathing"-style drug binge, are admittedly amusing and breathe life into the affair. But they also seem very much like they're only here for fear of never being able to employ the idea in any other show.

At, say, 90-minutes or so this would be one of the better shows of the year. As it stands it's too burdened to stretch its wings.

The only person who really cracks the somber and thoughtful side of "Vampire Christmas" is Domingo, who appears sincerely haunted and haunting in the final minutes, staring off into an unknowable future while still tied down to an undying preoccupation with the past.

It's a potent and prodigious crowning point, but the play needs a more focused approach to unlock its real potential.

"Vampire Christmas" runs through December 15 at the EXIT Theatre, 156 Eddy Street in San Francisco. For tickets and information, call 717-979-7122 or visit www.theexit.org.

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