There is nothing sexier than a good vampire story. And there’s nothing more twisted: vampires are the sluts of the underworld, sinking their sizable fangs into any available man or woman.
Many campy comedies have exploited this queer subtext, and the upcoming stage production of Vampire Lesbians of Sodom is no exception.
Produced in Vancouver by I’m A Little Pickled Theatre Company, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom runs from Jul 26 until Aug 6-just in time for Pride 2005.
Hang on, isn’t Pride Week all about buff bodies at the beach? Shouldn’t scary creatures with sharp teeth and immaculate fashion sense do their haunting at Halloween?
Laura Leone Hancock, one of the stars of Vampire Lesbians of Sodom, disagrees. “This show is very big and flashy, just like Pride,” she says.
It’s true: the play is outrageously funny, combining queer humour, “sweet innocence” and bawdy bad taste.
Written by gay playwright Charles Busch, the show debuted in 1984, became a cult hit in New York and ran for five years Off Broadway.
“I fell in love with this play in the first reading,” says Randie Parliament, director of Vampire Lesbians of Sodom and co-artistic director of I’m A Little Pickled Theatre Company. “It was so much fun to plan and discuss this play with everyone in the company. We love the offbeat characters.”
Among the play’s more offbeat characters: a virgin sacrifice, a “silent-screen vamp” and a perky gossip columnist.
The two main characters are rival lesbian vampires who battle each other in Biblical Sodom, 1920s Hollywood, and modern day Las Vegas. With references to Gertrude Stein, Sappho and dirty panties, the play is refreshingly queer-friendly.
Its “camp factor” is part of the appeal for Parliament. Describing the wigs, negligees and six-inch stilettos worn by male and female actors alike in this production, he admits that I’m A Little Pickled Theatre Company is “not so serious” when it comes to content.
Hancock agrees. “Frankly, you’ll never see us do Shakespeare,” she laughs.
It may not be Hamlet, but producing any play on a public stage requires dedication, skill and hard work. This is the Pickled Company’s eighth production, and all members of the artistic team are contributing to its creative process.
“I don’t want to wait to be discovered,” says Parliament. “I want to work on projects I care about. I’m drawn to gay characters. I have to stay true to who I am.
“I’m not going to play some dashing womanizer on stage,” he laughs. “There will always be a gay-driven aspect to every play, whether from a gay playwright or with gay characters.”
Both Parliament and Hancock speak seriously about the choice to cast a female actor in one role traditionally played by a male performer in drag. Does this decision dilute the play’s queer content?
“We maintain the camp,” says Parliament. “By using a female actor, we discover things in the play that we wouldn’t have found with male actors.”
So, how does a straight girl interpret parts made famous by a man wearing lipstick and heels? “I’m inspired by drag queens,” says Hancock, who spends lots of time with cross-dressing queer pals.
But playing “a woman playing a man playing a woman” is complicated, especially in a role deliberately stereotyped for humour.
While hoping to bring “sensuality and fun” to the part, Hancock admits that she still needs to practice walking in her stilettos. “They’re great for doing laundry,” she laughs.
Stilettos aside, innovation and a fresh approach are also vital ingredients in the mix. “We pride ourselves on bringing a younger audience to the theatre,” says Parliament.
With four shows coming out in 2005, including a production of The Book of Liz by David Sedaris, the company hopes to build local support in Vancouver. And, to coincide with its first full theatrical season, the company will commission an original play from the winner of a recent writing contest.
Of course, it isn’t easy trying to maintain this level of creativity. “I don’t love the financial worries,” Parliament admits. “Everything costs money.”
By mounting Vampire Lesbians of Sodom during Pride Week, I’m A Little Pickled Theatre Company hopes to add its own special brand of humour and positive entertainment to the celebrations. “This is a fun play,” says Hancock. “It’s what Pride is all about.”