Love Bites

It's October, and the scent of fall has brought about a taste for blood for several local theater companies. Among the horror-themed productions competing for your Halloween dollar this autumn is Heartbreak, the latest collaboration between Horse Trade Theater Group and its resident company, Edge of Insanity. This sprawling, vampire-on-vampire crime story has too many scenes and not enough blood (literally or otherwise), but an exotic cast and some quirky scriptwriter touches make it more than just your average overly ambitious Off-Off-Broadway show. The action starts in a bar in New Orleans, where a mysterious man broods over a glass of cranberry juice as the town is evacuating for Hurricane Katrina. He is there to see a friend, and one suspects that seriously unfinished business is at hand. A waitress throws herself at him for a ride, and he says that if he returns to the bar, she can ride with him.

Over the next several scenes, the stranger is nowhere to be seen, and instead we are in a world of vampires and prostitutes, a world that one would think is still pre-storm N'Awlins but, according to the script and press materials, is New York City. (It pays to read, obviously.) Location becomes irrelevant, as the focus is on a particularly nasty vamp named Sirius, whose insatiable bloodlust is upsetting the delicate human/vampire relations in the town. His "family" (the creatures of the night who sired and were sired by him) is angry, the vampire council (which governs the undead) is angry, and the slayers (who kill them) are expected to roll into town at any minute to stop Sirius's carnage.

The slayers do arrive about halfway through, in a nifty introductory scene set to the Backstreet Boys's "I Want It That Way." For those classicists upset about the idea of the protagonists arriving so late to the party, know that Steven, the mystery man from the first scene, is one of them, along with Trisha, a tough, wry brunette in the "Faith from Buffy the Vampire Slayer" mold, and a hilarious Shahrukh Khan (of Bollywood fame) wannabe named Neehad. They meet up with Helen, whose brother Andrew has been taken in and bitten by the bloodsuckers, and plan to save Andrew and kill Sirius. It's vamps versus humans, slayers, and other vamps as the dead bodies start piling up and characters begin to disappear.

To the producers' credit, the show sports a company large enough that only three parts are double-cast; however, two of the double-cast actors play large roles and don't do enough with their costuming to disguise the fact that the guys they play are not supposed to be identical twins. The function of this large ensemble is to have enough victims to sate the needs of the playwright, but it helps that the creators have assembled a melting pot's worth of ethnic diversity and performance styles for one of the more well-rounded casts below 14th Street (or, for that matter, above 14th Street).

As Sirius, Robert Yang has a great time with his Southern-accented vampire run amok. He's charming and dangerously unpredictable, and pulls off the crazy act with a respectable amount of showiness. Vedant Gokhale is all business as Sirius's "brother" Noah, and all silliness as the singing slayer Neehad. For the most part, the other actors are remarkably restrained and serious in their portrayals, though Solly Duran is effectively and frighteningly mercurial (if a bit slurry with her diction) as the lovelorn Fran.

Author/director Marc Morales tells a challengingly long and scene-change-filled story but seems to lack the production values and rehearsal time to make it work. The space was a black box with a few shoji screens and simple black furniture aided by colored lights, which worked for scenes in a basement, a bar, and a nightclub but didn't cut it at the abandoned amusement park that houses the slayers' hideout. (Even fairy lights strung up on the back wall to resemble a faraway Ferris wheel and roller coaster would have set up the location without the use of a fancy backdrop.) Lines were often lost by under-enunciating actors or blaringly loud music, and movement was a little too blocked. Most unfortunate, the final "battle" was barely seen; the characters spent more time talking about it before and afterward than actually doing it. Nobody likes a tease, guys.

With so many choices for spooky entertainment, a theater company's got to pull out all the stops with such a production. Despite its flaws, Heartbreak has promise, a few good gags, and a plot that keeps the audience tuned in. And for students, the price of a ticket is only a dollar more than that forgettable horror sequel that's in the theaters.

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