Review by Bryan Stryker
Vampires are the hot, new, "in" thing. From TV's True Blood to the Twilight book and movie franchise, vampires and those that love them are popping up everywhere. Because of this, Duncan Pflaster's Suckers caught my eye and could not be refused.
The play opens with Jeff (Jared Morgenstern) and Romaine (Paula Galloway) in their local park star-gazing. Jeff implores Romaine to join him on the grass gazing toward the heavens, which he says is a much more visceral experience. Romaine, however, fears acquiring Lyme disease. While she does eventually relent, she clearly doesn't enjoy it. They are soon joined in the park by Kendal (Rebecca Hirota) and Rich (Alan McNaney), a lively pair who delight in entertaining the couple. When told of Jeff's desire to lay on the grass and look at the stars, the flirtatious Kendal doesn't hesitate to do a complete split and gaze heavenward, much to Romaine's displeasure. Despite the late hour and Romaine's concern about having an early morning because of church, she and Jeff accompany their new friends to local café.
There they meet Elvis (Sean McLaughlin), a particularly dramatic creature who is in the middle of a poetry recitation. Also at the coffee bar are Harry (Eric C. Bailey), the goth barista, decked out in a fishnet shirt with red velvet vest (excellently created by costume designer Mark Richard Caswell), Raquel (Katherine Damingos) a jittery girl whose parlor trick is knowing celebrities' dates and causes of death, and David, a fey, musical-theatre-loving, sylph-like creature who is under the special care of Elvis. While the mood is festive, Romaine's natural reserve puts a damper on things. That is, of course, until she and Jeff are served a cup of Elvis' special house blend coffee. Suddenly, they are overwhelmed by sensations they've never experienced, and a new world appears before them. Romaine throws off her reserve and joins Elvis in his recitation, wowing the crowd with her astute observations. Jeff tries, but proves himself her intellectual inferior.
Sensing a chink in Romaine's armor of reserve, Elvis' uses her love of books to woo her into his private chamber for further conversation, while Rich and Kendal are left to tend to the wired Jeff, who is enjoying his second cup of the wicked brew. They immediately drop their cheery facades, and show their true conniving, blood sucking ways, feasting on Jeff's blood, while revealing their desire to usurp Elvis.
Meanwhile, Elvis reveals his vampiric self to Romaine and offers her the chance to be his queen, in a totally platonic sense, of course. Elvis realizes the threat that Kendal and Rich pose to him, and given Romaine's intellectual prowess, he knows she'd be the perfect complement and help keep them at bay. But can Romaine reconcile her temptation to join Elvis with her Roman Catholicism? Even if she does agree to help, what about Jeff? Will Elvis and Romaine be strong enough to defeat Kendal and Rich? What about the wild cards, Harry, Raquel, and David? Who will they fight with, if they fight at all? While the outcome is uncertain, one thing is sure - there will be blood.
Suckers comes from the wonderfully warped mind of Duncan Pflaster, who also directs. I must admit to being somewhat wary of playwrights who direct their own work as they tend not to see the holes in their story line, refuse to alter the storyline when it's not working, or sacrifice direction for the sake of the story. It is primarily the latter in this production - the direction is not as strong as it could be. In addition the well-crafted story weakens at the end as Pflaster tries to tie up all the loose ends.
Leading lady Paula Galloway steals the show with her spot-on comedic timing and glares. Her Romaine is endearing and you can't help but root for her as she tries to save Elvis, Jeff, and herself from the clutches of Rich and Kendal. While she flubs a few lines during the course of the 90-minute show, Galloway takes Pfaster's campy story to heart and delivers in scene after scene, often garnering laughs without saying a word.
Shawn McLaughlin's Elvis is about as campy a vampire as you could get. His droll delivery combined with a certain rakish charm makes is clear why others would be drawn to him - even without his hypnotic vampire powers. His dramatic entrance riding atop the coffee counter during a scene change sets the tone for his larger than life persona. Duncan Pflaster has written Elvis as a star and Shawn McLaughlin does not disappoint.
In the ensemble, attention must be paid to that dastardly duo of Rebecca Hirota and Alan McNaney. As Kendal and Rich, they play off of each other so well. They have level of onstage chemistry that is rarely achieved and so much fun to watch - even (or perhaps especially) when they're being bad.
Written and Directed by Dunan Pflaster
Fight Choreography: Christopher C. Cariker
Costume Design: Mark Richard Caswell
Featuring: Eric C. Bailey (Harry), Katherine Damingos (Raquel), Joe Fanelli (David), Paula Galloway (Romaine), Rebecca Hirota (Kendal), Shawn McLaughlin (Elvis), Alan McNaney (Rich), Jared Morgenstern (Jeff)
Planet Connections Theatre Festivity
Closed June 27