Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Humana Festival 2012: Michael von Siebenberg Melts Through the Floorboards

[Originally posted to the 88.1 KDHX blog]

Michael von Siebenberg Melts Through the Floorboards by Greg Kotis
Directed by Kip Fagan
The Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville
Through April 15, 2012

Live video blog review with Joan Lipkin of The Vital Voice

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Synopsis: "Meet Baron Michael von Siebenburg: a 500-year-old Austrian bachelor living in an American city, whose secret of eternal youth involves endless first dates and a special meat tenderizer. But when his landlady gets suspicious and the ghost of a medieval comrade commands him to take Constantinople back from the Turks, Michael finds himself haunted by past and present. A hilariously dark comedy about the rigors of vampiric immortality."

Some vampire tales, to paraphrase Tom Lehrer, don’t go far enough. This one goes too far, at least for me. As the author of the hilariously satirical Urinetown, Mr. Kotis clearly knows how to find laughs in material which, on the face of it, looks pretty tasteless, so this send-up of immortal bloodsuckers ought to be funny. I just found it creepy, however—and not in a good way. No matter how well it’s handled, I find it hard to get much entertainment value from a play in which the protagonist and his cohort maintain themselves by killing, pulverizing, and eating women. This gets too close to serial killer/Dahmer territory for me.

Yes, the vampire von Siebenberg finally decides to melt through the floorboards and die rather than continue in his bloody ways, but I didn’t find his conversion from cannibalism to love all that convincing. Still, others in our party found the play highly entertaining. Your own mileage might vary.

As was the case with everything we saw at the festival this weekend, the cast for Michael von Siebenberg was first rate, headed by Rufus Collins in the title role, Michah Stock as his Jaeger (hunter) Sammy (who is responsible for victim recruitment), Caralyn Kozlowski as the sprit of Michael’s wife Maria, and John Ahlin as the ghost of Michael’s Crusader colleague Otto, who absurdly exhorts him to fly to Constantinople and re-take the city for Christendom. There’s great work as well by Ariana Venturi and Laura Heisler as both victims and incredibly clueless cops and Rita Gardner as the justifiably suspicious Mrs. Rosemary.

Michael von Siebenburg was staged in the 637-seat Pamela Brown Auditorium, so sets, lighting, and technical effects were pretty stunning. At well over two and one-half hours (including intermission), it’s a bit long, with a first act that goes over the same ground too many times (at least for me), but given the popularity of vampire lore these days the play may find eternal life with regional theatre companies looking for a potential commercial success. Personally, I’ll stick with Dracula.

Join in the discussion on Twitter with the #hf36 and #humanafest hash tags and follow me @clavazzi. Look for Joan Lipkin's reviews at The Vital Voice.

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