Of the seven shows in this year’s Ice Factory Festival — Soho Think Tank’s generally interesting showcase for downtown artists — only five are open to review. It should have been four. “Vampire University,” a fatuous comedy about bloodsuckers invading a Christian college, plays like a college theater troupe’s first time on the boards.
Excluding a few actors, none of the creatives do their reputations any favors, but the most egregious work comes from director Desmond Mosley. His production absolutely lacks a tone, which leaves scenes either lifeless or incomprehensible.
And it’s not like playwright John Kaplan doesn’t makes room for strong choices. In a key moment, a vampire named Noelle (Tamara Scott), matriarch of an undead family, assaults Professor Orrin (Jerry Zellers), a lecherous Bible Studies teacher who ogles pious female students. As she’s about to bite the professor’s neck, Noelle cries, “Welcome to vampire university!” A second later, she spits out his blood because it tastes so bad.
That may sound campy, but in Mosley’s hands, it isn’t anything. Scott and Zellers are passionless, barely inflecting their voices and leaving pauses between every line.
Plus, they get lost in the cavernous Ohio Theater, whose massive dimensions overwhelm Sarah Greer’s skimpy set of plywood coffins and platforms. Even during important events, Mosley tucks his actors in the corners of this huge room, or else he shoves them so far downstage that it’s easier to focus on the emptiness behind them.
All this dilutes the effectiveness of Kaplan’s script, but it’s obvious the writing could be polished. The major plot arc, for instance, concerns the vampire family developing human characteristics. It’s unclear, though, if they are actually being reborn or if they will remain undead but have a few “symptoms” like heartbeats and sex drives.
Meanwhile, one of the hapless college students eventually turns into a werewolf. That’s probably a symbol, but who said anything about werewolves? Introducing a new type of monster late in the second act only violates the rules of the play’s world. Without some kind of logic, the fantasy devolves into randomness.
Design elements are equally inconsistent. Stephanie Wiesner’s “blood effects” have no rhyme or reason, with some bites not producing any red stuff at all. And though multiple cast members get chewed, they only sporadically have bruises on their necks.
At least there’s Rob Schwimmer’s music. His interludes on piano and theremin may add minutes to the overlong production, but they are expertly performed and have a coherent structure. In this context, that’s a relief.