THE BLOG
01/25/2015 08:18 pm ET Updated Mar 27, 2015

First Nighter: John Tiffany's 'Let the Right One In', Parallel Exit's 'Everybody Gets Cake!', Poe in 'Nevermore'

If you ask me, the prolific John Tiffany and the prolific Steven Hoggett -- whether prolific together or apart -- are responsible for the best play ever presented about the Iraq War. It's Black Watch, produced for the National Theatre of Scotland and twice a gotta-see-it-again attraction at St. Ann's Warehouse.

So when I learned they were bringing their National Theatre of Scotland Let the Right One In to the always adventurous St. Ann's, I figured it would be another must. I suppose it is, but not, in my estimation, as urgent a come-on.

Let the Right One In is Jack Thorne's adaptation of the John Ajvide Lindqvist novel and movie. This calls for a full disclosure here: I haven't seen the movie. Fuller disclosure: I don't warm to the subject matter, which is vampires. Is it too much to say that anything having to do with vampires makes my blood run so cold that the most desperate vampires would pass me by? And I don't care what the current vampires ubiquity in our culture reflects metaphorically.

What I have to say in favor of the work is its undeniable theatricality. This is no surprise from either Tiffany, who's a master of the theatrical (his Alan Cumming Hamlet was superb and sadly underrated), or from Hoggett, whose recent contribution to the sadly underrated and just-shuttered The Last Ship was immense.

You might say Let the Right One In could have been named Let the Right One Into the Woods, since Christine Jones's basic set consists of 30 or so tall trunks and features, just stage right of center, a jungle-gym-like structure that eventually turns into an unexpected sort of torture chamber. Underpinning the script is a pervasively ominous Olafur Arnalds score -- the kind that gets under your skin and then ceaselessly wriggles around there until you're thoroughly unsettled. Then there's Gareth Fry's sound design, which also has jolt-you-from-your-seat impact.

It may be that Tiffany's and Hoggett's visions of what they could do with the Lindqvist material obscured its potential familiarity for them. During a time when the town in which the characters live are experiencing a series of inexplicable murders, teenager Oscar (Cristian Ortega) befriends free spirit Eli (Rebecca Benson), whose father Hakan (Cliff Burnett) is the one with vein-slashing inclinations.

Though Eli, whose DNA is also compromised, takes a shine to Oscar, a couple of boys at school (Andrew Fraser, Angus Miller) have a different attitude. They harass the lad mercilessly. When Oscar finally fights back, the harassment takes a turn that seems as if it'll be even bleaker. That's when the advice contained in the title comes into play and perhaps suggests a twist not pointed out anywhere else in the expanding vampire canon.

So let's leave it at: Viewers who can't get enough of a vampire diet, so to speak, may go bonkers for this spin, whereas those who can take vampires or leave them may want to wait for the next Tiffany-Hoggett collaboration.

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Before I get to particulars -- some particulars, anyway -- about Everybody Gets Cake!, which Parallel Exit is letting out at 59E59 Theatres as if from a jack-in-the-box, I want to reiterate what many theater-goers already know: Comedy is a more individual taste than drama.

I say this because while Joel Jeske, Danny Gardner (Ryan Kasprzak now taking over) and Brent McBeth gallivant through the 75-minute show they wrote for themselves to perform -- and Mark Lonergan to direct at what must be ultra-highest Metronome speed -- people around me in the relatively small room (often used for cabaret) were laughing just about non-stop.

As for me, I didn't laugh once. Not once. As a consequence, I'm not certain that what I have to say would necessarily be of help to anyone whose response to comic impulses is more in line with the belly-laughers in my group of patrons than with those -- and there were some -- who, like me, sat silently.

I can report about what happened on Maruti Evans's bright set decorated with tall arrows and, if I counted correctly, seven doors and two window-like openings. But before I report further, it may be of some use to ask first if you remember Laugh-In. It may also be of use to ask if you remember Monty Python's Flying Circus.

If that's a yes and a yes, so do Jeske, Gardner and McBeth. They're carrying on in the same buckshot vignette manner. Changing Oana Botez's smart and colorful costumes in the blink of an eye as they hustle through those doors and fling open and pull shut those above-ground cupboard doors, they play an old man attended by an aide, a newly arrived rube expecting to be a Broadway star, The Theater Cow, two tourists taking selfies, two fellows wielding cell phones to deliver a symphony of mechanical sounds, First World War soldiers, a drag artist lip-synching to Edith Piaf's "La Vie En Rose," men acting out gestures from an awkward-human-contact manual, men pushing around red panels for no apparent purpose, a man stuffing balloons into his jacket, men holding boards with cut-outs through which they mug.

Plus plenty more, though no need to go on about it -- except to mention that two of the quick-time skits did come close to making me laugh. One involved an invisible rake and one involved Mother Teresa encountering a bank teller. If I had laughed outright at the rake routine, however, I would have stopped fast, because the conceit is milked beyond its sell-by minute.

No matter how I felt or how the rest of the audience reacted, it's true that Jeske, Gardner and McBeth exhibit bottomless stamina. I suppose they actually breathe at some point as the 75 minutes ticked by, but if so, I missed it. At curtain call, they brought out a young woman without identifying her (nor did the program), whom I took to be their sole dresser. She may have worked harder than any of the men and deserves the applause she got and then some.

At the piano throughout, playing familiar melodies -- including Eric Satie's "Gymnopedie" whenever that shuffling old man entered -- was composer Ben Model. I wouldn't say he was the most agile key-tickler I've ever encountered, but he was definitely game for the shenanigans.

As for the Everybody Gets Cake! title, the team makes good. Atop a center-stage cart audience members see when they enter is a one-tier, rectangular, vanilla-iced cake. It's wheeled off early but brought back for a before-closing sketch. Although that seems to be the end of it, it isn't. As patrons exit, they do receive cake. So no one connected with the production can be accused of not fulfilling the promise made on the front of the program.

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Edgar Allan Poe had so many ignominies heaped on him during his brief, though productive life that you'd think he deserved none after his death. Unfortunately, it now turns out that the conjoined word "nevermore" can't be applied to him. Forget about his including it so quotably in "The Raven."

Indeed, what happens in Nevermore, at New World Stages, to the poor man, who died penniless in Baltimore at 40, shouldn't happen to a dog. Maybe I should say it shouldn't happen to a doggerel, because that's exactly what happens to him in this doggerel retelling of his story. It's a stage biography, as written, directed and set to music by Jonathan Christenson, that just doesn't make the grade.

Seven actors -- one of whom, Scott Shpeley, portrays Edgar -- act out the incidents from Poe's birth to his demise. They go about their business on an elegant Bretta Gerecke set and wearing imaginative Bretta Gerecke costumes that might have served another property extremely well. No matter that a couple of instances in these cartoonized period outfits, the women look as if they're wearing lampshades -- not on their heads, mind you, but dangling from their waists.

Nothing about the production's intriguing appearance, though, is able to overcome the tedium as Poe's experiences are unfolded year by slow moving year. At the end of the first act, only 14 of those years have been recalled in clanging verse and Christenson's tiresomely stylized, constantly shifting movements.

I can't have been the only one at the intermission who was guiltily grateful that Poe had a short life, but the real Nevermore shocker is that someone who wrote as memorably as Poe did about the preeminence of anxiety should be dishonored in 2015 by such bad writing. As for the entire enterprise, quoth this reviewer, "Neveragain."