Laura Schellhardt seemingly wants her new play, “Courting Vampires,” to be many things, from a character study about sisterly love to a portrait of a mysteriously damaged family to a darkly comic psychodrama about a repressed and controlling woman. Unfortunately, in writing a work whose focus is so diffuse, Schellhardt is ultimately unable to pull its varying styles together into a successful piece of theater. The world premiere production at the Theater@Boston Court, however, features a trio of talented actors who ably demonstrate the play’s potential.
The story takes place in the mind of Rill Archer (Carey Peters), a rigid and angry young woman trying to deal with the impending death of her younger sister, Nina (Maya Lawson), from AIDS by seeing it in terms of an imaginary trial. AIDS is never mentioned by name. Instead, Rill is convinced that Nina is the victim of a vampire, and she’s determined to kill the victimizing Man (Bo Foxworth).
Peters gives a strong and subtle performance, mining the role’s acerbic humor and highlighting the rage behind Rill’s moral certainty. But even though we spend the show in the character’s mind, Rill is still a cipher. Does she really think her sister was attacked by a vampire? Does anything in the play actually happen in her real life? That one comes out of this show uncertain about these basic plot issues necessarily mutes the story’s effectiveness.
Foxworth impresses in multiple roles, playing all the male characters in the piece, from an apologetic Polish peasant to Rill and Nina’s father, so paralyzed by fear he can’t leave his own home. Lawson tries hard and generally succeeds in bringing emotional honesty to Nina, but the role as written is largely one-dimensional, the sunny flipside to the stormy Rill.
Jessica Kubzansky’s direction is professional but can’t overcome the play’s essential nebulousness. Schellhardt’s writing has wit and poetry, and moments such as Rill’s hilarious “seduction” of a co-worker or a visit to a prospective lawyer work very well. But the play could use a rewrite to clarify its intentions.
Finally, Kurt Boetcher’s set, a surreal floor of filing cabinets, is well realized but at this point feels like an unnecessary distraction.