Review "Carmilla": Lesbian Vampires are Victorian-Era Feminists

WildClaw Theatre, in association with DCA Theatre, presents

CARMILLA
At DCA Storefront Theatre, 66 E. Randolph
Based on the story by J. Sheridan Le Fanu
Adapted for stage by Aly Renee Amidei
Directed by Scott Cummins
Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30pm
Sundays at 3pm
Thru February 20th
Buy Tickets
Running Time:  Two hours and twenty minutes with a ten minute intermission

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

Way before Dracula and Mina or Bill and Sookie staked their claim on supernatural relationship woes,  Carmilla and Laura explored 'wanted: dead or alive' complications.  WildClaw Theatre, in association with DCA Theatre, presents the world premiere of CARMILLA.   In 1872, J. Sheridan Le Fanu penned a gothic novella inspired by vampire folklore adapted now for the stage by Aly Renee Amidei.     Laura is a friendless, lonely teenager.  She lives in the remote countryside of the 19th century.  Her husband prospects are bleak and slim pickings.  Cue the mysterious and beautiful Carmilla!  When a carriage accident leaves a young woman stranded, Laura and her father give her shelter.  Carmilla and Laura are instantly inseparable.  As Carmilla seduces with anti-men establishment propaganda, Laura counters by challenging Carmilla to open her heart to gypsies and other less fortunate.  Who's zooming who?  Meanwhile, the village women are being attacked by a nocturnal beast that has rallied a vigilante movement.   CARMILLA is simply a love story made horrific by the people who want to suck the life out of you... Victorian-era men.

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This vampire tale gives the victims power.  The idea of turning vampire to become free of the conventional restraints of the time period is fascinating.  Although the essences of the fantasia are powerful, Playwright Aly Renee Amidei adds some extra layers that could be shaved to tighten up the main storyline.  Who needs two governesses anyway?  Despite the slight convolution, Amidei intrigues and surprises right up to the ending with flashbacks and twists.  Under the direction of Scott Cummins, love and hate get equal intensity.  The sensuality of new love beginnings contrasts perfectly with the brutality of vampires' attacks.  In the lead, Brittany Burch (Laura) endears with a charming innocence initially and later with a haunting resignation.  Michaela Petro (Carmilla) transfixes with vivacious sexual prowess and disturbing bestial aggressiveness.   The entire talented cast talks the talk with multi-cultural accents (French, British, Transylvania, Gypsy) and walks the walk in vibrant costumes (Amidei).  The  gypsy camp and masked ball scenes are visual diversity spectacles.  The large ensemble turns epic in a riveting battle finale.  Cummins, along with David Chrzanowski, stage all the vampire violence with an energetic athleticism and lots of blood.        

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Setting the stage for the creepy vibe, Scenic Designer Alan Donahue creates a multi-level stone fortress that is a cross between a mansion and mausoleum.  It's a crypt-astic backdrop for the fog to roll in from different angles (Special Effects Charlie Athanas).  It sounds spooky too with a gothic-infused classical composition by Mikhail Fiksel and Scott Tallarida.  As a night of fright, CARMILLA satisfies as blood thirsty passionate entertainment.  The scariest take-away is not knowing what was the better female position in the Victorian-era?  Being a victim in a loveless marriage and male dominated culture?  Or being forever young and taking what you want as a vampire?  WWLD?

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