KPBS AIRDATE: AUGUST 12-13, 1992
One guy in drag has droopy boobs, a frumpy dress and roller skates. Another is all in gold lamé, a little two-piece, mini-skirted number — which he happens to own. A young woman plays a man in sweatpants bulging at the thigh with penis envy.
Welcome to the world of “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom,” where you can’t tell the genders without a score-card. If subtlety is your cup of theater, try hanging out at some other stage door. But if campy cross-dressing is up your alley, you’ll hit the Bowling For Dollars jackpot at Sweetooth Comedy Theatre.
Playwright Charles Busch is the wacky, wigged-out thespian who was known for playing the female leads in his goofy, spoofy pieces. He first produced “Vampire Lesbians” in 1984, mounting the production, you should pardon the expression, for $38.60. It was such a raging success that it moved uptown and became the longest-running non-musical play in Off-Broadway history.
The piece failed to make even a ripple, let alone a splash, when it made its San Diego premiere seven months ago at the Ruse/Marquis Theatre. Everything there was off-kilter, instead of off-center. But this time, it’s right on the money, even if the production seems to have cost little more than what Busch originally put into it. “Vampire Lesbians” and its companion piece, “Sleeping Beauty or Coma,” are totally tasteless, totally crass, totally cross-sexual, and, pretty regularly at Sweetooth, pretty damned funny.
Director/Producer Michael Scahill seems to know exactly what he’s doing, and he’s given the piece the frenzy and frank, garish bawdiness it justly deserves. He ventures several tawdry steps beyond vulgar with a set-piece that is, as the cave of the Succubus (accent always on the first syllable), more vaginal than cavernous. Equal time is given to the non-distaff side, of course, with the most phallic spears ever seen this side of Sodom.
“Vampire Lesbians” is a schizoid sendup of low-budget horror films. It moves, with wanton speed, from 1000 B.C. Biblical to 1927 Hollywood, and inexorably onward to Caesar’s Palace in the present, tracing the undying rivalry of the undead, two vamps who ultimately compete for stage and screen credits as well as virgin victims. Talk about bitchy. Whoo-boy. And one of them is a boy, female impersonator Holly Wood, who is just fabulous: the center, the very navel, of the whole production. But you’d better back off when he and Michele Guisti go at each other… (CLIP FROM “VAMPIRE LESBIANS” — outQ: “Are you finished?”).
They’re finished — for now… Within the two short pieces, the cast of eight plays multiple roles, some more effective than others, but David Hough is always good for a laugh — in any-gendered incarnation. Jessica Amador only has male parts, so to speak, but she enlarges upon them in every way possible. And Michele Guisti is best as the Succubus, though she’s okay, too, as the Condessa, a name which Holly Wood distorts to obscene effect. This is Family Hour; you’ll have to use your imagination. Not much is left to the imagination in this raunchy evening of one-acts. It’s hot in the theater but it’s pretty steamy onstage, too. And wardrobe choices aside, the evening never drags.
I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS radio.
©1992 Patté Productions Inc.