Monday, October 07, 2013

Imaginary Beasts Presents Angela Carter's "Hairy Tales" at Boston Center for the Arts

I can always count on Imaginary Beasts and Director, Matthew Wood, to present plays that are both intriguing and obscure.  In the case of the current production of Angela Carter's "Hairy Tales," that promise is delightfully fulfilled.  Originally written as radio plays, "The Company of Wolves" and "Vampirella" have been adapted by Wood and his team as fully realized stage plays. It was an evening full of surprise and memorable imagery.

Michael Underhill as Hero
Photo by Roger Metcalf

The first of the two one acts plays, "The Company of Wolves" reminded me a great deal of the back story of Little Red Riding Hood.  While ably performed, with wonderful folk choreography by Kiki Samko, this play was less engaging to me than the second play, so I will confine my detailed remarks to describing "Vampirella."

It is quite possible that I enjoyed the second play more because I had used the interval of Intermission to think about the genre of drama that was being presented, and to adjust my response to the plays accordingly.  Both plays are presented in a style fit for the Halloween season - macabre with lots of references to werewolves, vampires, the undead, and general creepiness.  The images and characters are drawn expressionistically, almost cartoonishly.

Originally presented over the radio, Ms. Carter's tales required the radio audience to employ vivid imagination to create the images and characters - to fill in the missing pieces.  During Intermission, I was reminded of a frequent childhood experience of storytelling.  My sister, brother and I would cue up the recording of "The  Count of Monte Christo," turn off all the lights, and allow ourselves and our imaginations to be transported to the dreadful Chateau d'If off the coast of Marseille.  So this was the mode and mind set in which I approached viewing the second play, "Vampirella."

Perhaps I was more engaged with this play, as well, because of the setting in the hauntingly beautiful and terrifying Carpathian Mountains that transverse Hungary and Romania - in the iconic Transylvania region - home to Vlad the Impaler and ground zero for the vampire mythology.  I have spent a great deal of time in that fabled land.  The plot of "Vampirella" is a wonderfully entertaining hodgepodge of Dracula meets Rocky Horror, with some cannibalism, necrophagia and necrophilia thrown in for good measure.

The cast got into the spirit of the production with just the right mixture of horror and camp.  Michael Underhill, as Hero, is a naive Englishman on a bicycle tour of the enchanted land of the Carpathians.  His pantomiming of the bicycling exertions is hilarious.  He is taken in by the beauty and mystique of the undead Countess, played as a bifurcated character - part real and part imaginary - by Poormina Kirby and Amy Meyer.  In this case, because of the fine work of these two actors working in tandem, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and the character is intriguing on  many levels.

Poormina Kirby and Amy Meyer is The Countess
Photo by Roger Metcalf
The rest of the cast fill out the telling of the tale very ably.  William Schuller as The Count does the best work I have ever seen him do.  I mentioned earlier the cartoonish nature of some of the characters.  Think of one part Mr. Burns from The Simpson's and one part The Count from Sesame Street.  It would be fair to call his performance here "stilted," and that would be a compliment as he raises his acting to a new level.  Kamelia Aly is memorable as Mrs. Beane, a Scottish governess overseeing the young Countess.   Her back story of escaping from the Highlands is a fun diversion from the main action, but in keeping with the macabre theme of the play. Joey Pelletier as The Lantern Bearer brings his usual entertaining and outre style of character development to the role.  Filling out the ensemble are Lorna Noguiera and Erin Butcher as Shade.

Using simple props and minimalist set design, including a very versatile bit of sail cloth, the Imaginary Beasts tell a haunting and amusing tale.  The plays will run through October 26 at the Plaza Black Box Theater at Boston Center for the Arts.



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