Review: ‘Carmilla’ long on explanation, short on substance

By By Autumn D.F. Hopkins
For the Gazette-Mail

Friday night, the Astral Theatre Collective offered up its ambitious adaptation of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s gothic tale, “Carmilla,” at the Alban Arts Center.

Although I love the darker tales of theater, this production falls somewhat flat in its grasp of the genre. What should be a slow simmer into horror never really comes to a boil.

Instead, there are many, many monologues that explain — ad nauseam, without ever really revealing the answers to — the mysteries posed in the show. The production team relies too heavily on the artifice of budget horror movies to wrap up the tale with a little flash and less substance.

It is a very chatty production with much diatribing by the characters and very little dialoguing. Instead of characters given to conversations that let the action unfold naturally, they appear in a constant state of lecture delivery. The show would have been better served without so many long passages lifted seemingly directly from the text.

And the set changes, oh sweet heaven the set changes. There are so many tedious and drawn-out, elaborate moving parts between scenes that the process of moving from scene to scene stymies what little action there is, leaving the audience to listen to the annoyingly repetitious eight or so bars of musical filler over and over. “Carmilla” will definitely give me nightmares, but it will be from the inescapable earworm of muzak and not the horror of the tale.

Strip away those crippling issues and you are left with a cast which worked extremely hard to memorize copious monologues and perfect an intense variety of European accents.

Brian Kidd as Father has an especially lovely upper-crust British accent worthy of “Downton Abbey.” The lovely Amelia Engle, as his daughter Laura, is quite believable as the unsuspecting victim of the vampire’s affection and machinations.

And the vampire. I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the chillingly intense gaze and countenance of the ghoulish nightwalker Carrie Jo Rader, Carmilla herself. Couched in the deceptively innocent body of youth with long, dark hair flowing around her torso, it isn’t difficult to perceive how she had seduced generations of victims.

The show is backed with an impressive supporting cast including the over-the-top cartoonish German accents of vampire hunters Ron Smith and Sean McCracken, General Spielsdorf and Baron Vordenberg.

I believe the Astral Theatre Collective, still in its infancy as a troupe, is not without a great deal of skill and talent within its ranks. However, it seems they may have overshot their mark with “Carmilla,” choosing to adapt a lesser known tale into an overly cerebral production.

Judge for yourself. If you would like to take a chance on “Carmilla,” it plays again Aug. 12, 18 and 19 at 8 p.m. at the Alban Arts Center.

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