By Joseph Wilde; Directed by Rebecca Atkinson-Lord
Presented by Arch 468 and Ovalhouse
Off Broadway, New Play
Runs through 6.28.15
59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street
by Sarah Weber on 6.10.15
Carla Langley and Rendah Heywood in Cuddles. Photo by Alex Beckett.
BOTTOM LINE: A teenage vampire relies on her sister to survive, but what happens when her sister tries changing the rules?
Every year 59E59 Theaters present plays from across the pond in their Brits Off Broadway festival. Now in its eleventh season, the festival offers us a diverse spread of works including this twisted window into Joseph Wilde’s sick imagination – Cuddles. While you could say most people have skeletons in their closets, Tabby (Rendah Heywood) keeps far darker secrets chained to a bedpost in her attic. Eve (Carla Langley) is her teenage sister and (possibly) a vampire; she means well, but Tabby keeps her blood-hungry Eve in the attic not only for the protection of other people but for her sister’s protection from the closed-mindedness of others.
Eve has lived in this unkempt corner of the house all her life. All she knows about sunlight and the outdoors is based on what she’s learned from Tabby and fantasy novels. This is the only life Eve has ever known and she’s perfectly content with her books, Tabby’s rules, and Tabby’s blood. But Tabby begins to have doubts after the impossible happens – she falls in love. Growing tired of revolving her life around Eve, Tabby tries to change the rules and assimilate her sister into the real world. This proves more than Eve can handle, and even the most well-laid plans backfire as the siblings try to figure out who between them is the real monster.
In addition to family dynamics, Wilde’s story addresses psychology and gender politics. While Eve is discovering both the strengths and limitations of her own body, we see Tabby fighting in a man’s world to be respected for more than just her looks. But the thematic emphasis seems to be placed on the secrets we keep from family and the consequences of keeping those secrets for too long. Is Eve actually a vampire? Or has Tabby told her the same story so many times that Eve believes it must be true? And is it too late for Eve to believe the real truth?
Heywood and Langley’s performances as the sisters are nothing less than spectacular. Heywood’s cold yet impassioned bluntness works in tandem with Langley’s awkward desperation for affection. Langley’s attention to physical detail brings Eve’s character to life so convincingly I could actually believe she spent all of her life confined to a small room. And their performances are only enhanced by Rebecca Atkinson-Lord’s intuitive direction.
But how much of this story have we lost in the play’s constant vague allusions to the past? Tabby’s attempt to reveal her dark secret could have floored the audience had we actually learned the full extent of her deception. Instead we only get a taste, a faint suggestion for the series of unfortunate events that led to Eve’s reclusive life. The mystery is certainly fun to watch, and I recommend this show to anyone who wants a fresh take on vampire or suspense stories. I for one would be interested to see how this gruesome story grows in future productions.
(Cuddles plays at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, through June 28, 2015. Performances are Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:30; Fridays at 8:30; Saturdays at 2:30 and 8:30; and Sundays at 3:30 and 7:30. There is no 7:30 performance on Sunday, June 28. Tickets are $25 general admission ($17.50 for 59E59 members) and are available at www.59e59.org or by calling 212.279.4200.)