I have to admit: I thought I was going to hate Vamp. I thought it was going to be the stupidest play ever. And it was a reasonable assumption, given that the play's premise sounds like the kind of nonsense tolerated only in high school one-act competitions. Chloe (Elizabeth Young) is a lonely and neurotic script reader whose apartment is inhabited by clichéd characters from the scripts she reads (a "spunky old lady" and a bathrobe-clad Jesus). When Chloe finally falls in love, her new girlfriend turns out to be a vampire. Dumb, right?

Only it's not, not even a little bit. Stark Raving's world premiere of Vamp is funny and smart, with a gentle self-awareness that stays just the right side of too clever. Though Chloe lives in a world of clichés and "types," playwright Ry Herman isn't content to engage the audience on a purely ironic level. Herman's cannibalization of theatrical clichés is surprisingly sensitive. Gilberto Martin del Campo's Avant-Garde Jesus is an identifiable type, yet still gently endearing; April Magnusson as the Spunky Old Gal delivers familiar platitudes with a lovable dose of, well, spunkiness.

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The relationship between Chloe and her vampire girlfriend, Angela (Ithica Tell), is the heart of the play. Chloe is horrified when she learns of Angela's bloodsucking tendencies, but the shock quickly wears off as she begins to think of vampirism as a form of emotional and physical abuse. Somehow, this comparison works: Tell and Young as Angela and Chloe are deeply believable as women struggling to come to terms with the psychological consequences of abuse. This connection is reinforced in several puppet shows illustrating the history of abuse in Chloe and Angela's previous relationships; these clever little puppet shows are funny in a way that makes you feel guilty for laughing. The puppet shows are at the heart of why the show works as well as it does: Though some very real issues are addressed, Vamp never feels heavy handed or sappy. It is, after all, a play about lesbian vampires.

Vamp does have a few minor problems with staging; there were several scenes between Chloe and Angela where half the audience couldn't see either character's face, and the set is goofy, papered with quotes from the play. Overall, though, Vamp works: It's accessible without pandering, affecting without sacrificing humor. Even the music design is cool, creating a dance hall/funeral home vibe. For a play that could've been awful, Vamp's success is all the more resounding.

SLAY Film Fest
In person at the Clinton St. Theater 10/29 & 10/30