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Theater Review: Evolution’s Delightful Romp Through ‘Vampire Lesbians of Sodom’

Richard Sanford Richard Sanford Theater Review: Evolution’s Delightful Romp Through ‘Vampire Lesbians of Sodom’Baylee Sheets and Mark Phillips in Evolution Theatre Company’s production of “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom.” Photo by JAMS Photography.
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Charles Busch helped coalesce a new gay theatre movement in downtown New York in the ‘80s and his work continues to resonate and reverberate through film adaptations and countless revivals. To celebrate 2021’s Pride Month, Columbus’ LGBTQQIAA company, Evolution Theatre, presents a jubilant run through Busch’s breakthrough hit, 1984’s Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, directed by Jeb Bigelow in the nicely remodeled MadLab theatre space downtown.

In a series of skits spanning over 1,000 years, Busch’s play details the unlikely friendship that develops between The Succubus (Britt Kline) and the virgin sacrifice who found a way to immortality herself (Mark Phillips Schwamberger). The delightful chemistry between these two is a sizeable piece of why the production works so well. We watch them banter, bitch at one another, and not infrequently try to kill the other from Biblical times to the silent film era through late ‘70s Las Vegas, with fortunes rising and falling.  

Schwamberger and Kline always play these characters (in various names and identities they’ve assumed) as the same people but gracefully sidestep the trap that too often befalls anything involving immortals: what they’ve seen and lived through changes and shapes them.

The rest of the cast also tear into their characters’ representation of recurring types drawn into the vampires’ orbit throughout history. The lovably alternately goofy and prickly duo of Derek Gulley and Cory Schmid brings the same expert timing and mastery of a spectrum of comedic tropes to scantily clad centurions and Vegas showboys. Their alley-oops brought the house down multiple times at the performance I saw, with particular attention to Gulley’s ability to bring crashing chaos with a raised eyebrow.

Left to right: Mark Phillips, Cody Schmid, and Derek Gulley  in Evolution Theatre Company’s production of “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom.” Photo by JAMS Photography.
Left to right: Mark Phillips, Cody Schmid, and Derek Gulley  in Evolution Theatre Company’s production of “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom.” Photo by JAMS Photography.

Scott Douglas Wilson and Ashley Woodard fill out the central section set in old Hollywood with King Carlyle, Wilson’s hilarious take on the classic barrel-chested leading man of the era, and Ashley Woodard’s riotous whiplash double agent and obsequious, smarmy gossip columnist. These two banter with the leads and Sheets and Ruehrmund in classic screwball style with the wire-taut tension and timing it needs, expertly directed like everything else by Bigelow.

Baylee Sheets and Michael Ruehrmund bring what could be filler – victims, butlers – and make those classic types sing and shine, making the most of the Upstairs/Downstairs energy of people on the margins. Both actors also have stellar singing features here. Sheets sets tone for the show with a bubbling-over take on Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” and Ruehrmund establishes time jumping with a sizzling read on Irving Berlin’s “Dancing Cheek to Cheek.”

Bigelow’s decision to interest pop song interludes between the scenes works in ways I wasn’t expecting. It increases audience identification and – like the well-chosen playlist in the house before curtain – ramps up the energy while also calling back to the play’s original nightclub roots. They’re big and obvious and funny – in the best ways, like Woodard’s “I Melt With You” – without being too knowing.

Bigelow underlines enough of the subtext in Vampire Lesbians of Sodom – the two vamps’ friendship forged by a world that alternately tosses them away, reviles them, or relishes their glamorous outsider status – to give the production an appealing crunch. But he and the terrific cast never let the souffle fall – this is a giddy, ribald entertainment start to finish.

Vampire Lesbians of Sodom runs through June 26 at the MadLab space (227 N 3rd Street) with performances at 7:30 pm Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8:00 pm Fridays and Saturdays, and 2:00 pm Sunday, June 20. For tickets and more info, visit evolutiontheatre.org.

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