A Vampire Reflects – theatre review

Theatre Jacksonville opened its second show of the 2010-2011 season with the Florida premiere of Frank Semerano’s 1999 play A Vampire Reflects. Our experience has been that most plays we’ve seen about vampires usually involve Dracula, the king of all vampires, and are written to tease with terror rather than tickle the funny bone. The only thing that will scare you in A Vampire Reflects is the fear that you might miss one of the very funny one-liner jokes in this two-hour romp; this vampire tale is an over the top farce.
This vampire story finds Count Zescu, our leading man (opps, I mean vampire), in his new digs, an estate in Heatstroke California, adjacent to a US Army military base, in the 1950’s. His companion is Mattie, an amorous attractive groupie, who has become his housekeeper. Renee LaCroix, wearing a pink sweater and a poodle skirt, plays Mattie with gusto; she is a real thorn in the Count’s side. Ms. LaCroix, a 2008 Jacksonville University (JU) graduate, has spent the last two years performing in Fernandina’s Amelia Community Theatre. We saw her there in Postmortem, and also enjoyed her talents in Wrong Turn at Lungfish at Players By the Sea (PBTS) and Heartbreak House at JU.
The Count immediately has problems with the nearby military base, as scientists keep blowing up bats in attempts to train them as flying bombs to be used in combat; and they won’t be available to pollinate flowers or eat mosquitoes. Zescu goes to the base to talk things over with the befuddled commander, Colonel Puddlepoint, played by Mark Wright. Mr. Wright plays bewildered types extremely well, as he recently demonstrated at PBTS where he was recognized as Best Supporting Actor for a similar role in Sabrina Fair.
We get a look at the Bat Experimental Laboratory, where Lieutenant Crisis (Allen Morton) is assisting a former Nazi working under the assumed name of Dr. Gunter with cages of bats in training. If you need an actor to play a super kooky character in any play, than call up Thomas Trauger, who probably has a dozen or so on his resume. His Dr. Gunter will keep you in stitches. He and the Count do an amazing levitation scene that you won’t want to miss.
In a cameo role as the narrator at the opening, Jason Brown makes his TJ debut, looking a bit like a 1950’s detective modeled after Sam Spade. Ellen Schroeter is making her theatre debut in Jacksonville, as Mrs. Puddlepont, the Colonel’s wife. She brings an impressive resume from Michigan, and shows us she knows her way around the stage in a comic role. You will be especially impressed as she becomes romantically excited by the Count!! Enough said!! Attractive Sara Murphy is also making her TJ debut, as an elusive news reporter who shows up everywhere with her microphone to report on the proceedings, while using a number of disguises including a maid, and a termite control technician.
Any vampire play is only as good as the lead vampire, and Michael Fritton is absolutely fabulous as Count Zescu. He has a magnificent booming voice that can probably be heard out in San Marco Square. And he is a man of a thousand facial expressions, most of them hilarious, which, combined with excellent comic timing and physical movements, will have you laughing until you cry.
We won’t take you further with the plot because like most farces, the situations build on each other until any pretense of logical structure collapses.
Once again the talents of the husband and wife team, Kelly Wagoner (Set Design) and Jeffery Wagoner (Technical and Lighting Design) have created the picture perfect setting for the happenings in this show. The play begins at the Count’s estate, where the interior walls have black patterned motifs, and the furniture is covered with white muslin; additional sets include the Colonel’s home and the base laboratory. Lighting effects include both strobes and blackouts.
Tracy Olin’s costume designs bring back the era. The women, with their aprons, hats, heels, and sheath dresses, would easily fit into a Norman Rockwell painting.
This play has not been done very much probably because it could be hard to cast. You need dedicated actors who are shamelessly uninhibited and able to perform zippy and snappy dialogue with sincerity. Director Jason Collins has cast this show well, and turns campy B-Movie situations into an evening that is a wild and crazy viewing experience.
Theatre Jacksonville has a couple of additional fun events connected to this production. For the Thursday evening performances (November 11 and 18), the “Fang She-bang” Lounge will be open at sunset – around 6 pm.; an additional charge applies. On Saturday, November 13, patrons who show up in costume as their favorite fictional vampire will be eligible to win bloody good prizes. And you wondered if you were going to get to use that Halloween costume again this year!! I guess Rocky Horror attire will be welcomed, just go by a costume shop and pick up some vampire teeth (they’re cheap).
All this madness will continue Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, with a matinee scheduled for November 14, until November 20, when this vampire will disappear into the night basking in his final evening of laughter. Call 396-4425 or visit www.theatejax.com to reserve.