Phil Messerer’s initial installment of The Vampire Diaries is a fascinating cautionary tale delving into the depths of a mother’s devotion to her children. Blood-and-guts devotees won’t be disappointed with the fountains of crimson burbling vivaciously out of the necks, brains and eye sockets of an array of male sacrifices required to feed the Baxter family’s perfect child.
Randall Leddy’s visual effects keep the eye mightily engaged and Rostislav Spitkovsky’s impressively detailed etchings—tracing the rise and fall of Mayan vampire Oya—add many elements of truth to her bloodthirsty past. Similarly, the musical tracks created by Jezabella Kipp, Liz Lysinger and David Willis-Lorenz do sooth the ear while the body count mounts, but can’t hold a candle to the frequent solo piano movements (given thoroughly sincere if at times rough-and-ready readings by Azary Messerer) from the royalty-free likes of Chopin, Beethoven and Prokofiev. The weak link is the historical narrator whose too-trebly voice is at odds with the ever-so-dark background text.
The ensemble cast digs deep into the metaphor-rich script and mix as well together as any potion capable of unleashing the undead persona that lurks in the farthest reaches of us all. As Mom, JoJo Hristova turns in a dazzling performance that belies her slight frame and deceptively quiet demeanour. Having rid herself of a tiresome husband (Anthony Morelli) during an especially dysfunctional holiday dinner, the god-fearing matriarch has her three daughters (twentysomething Raymond, convincingly played by Michael Strelow, finally comes out and is soon just one of the girls as he dutifully keeps the basement larder full of queer young men for his sibling’s thirst-quenching feeds) all to herself as she stoically devotes every minute of every day to their nurture, protection and care.
When we first meet Helen (Devon Bailey), she’s every parent’s dream: great marks, good looks, admiring friends and no sign of succumbing to the usual teenage vices. Sister Lara (Eilis Cahill) is the epitome of an “evil twin”—decked out in Goth gear/makeup, worshipping at a ghoulish shrine that will have cultists salivating over the treasure trove of secret ingredients that—when properly combined—can unleash an industrial-strength nosebleed to push a deserving victim into Dracula’s realm.
Helen’s agonized passing sends the survivors into anguished mourning (“Would you rather it had been me?” asks Lara of her grieving mother) but that pain is immediately replaced by bittersweet joy when the resurrected, blood-drenched blonde (no sign of the mortician …) returns to the nest.
Having set this incredible series of events into motion, Messerer deftly utilizes high comedy (the Mormons’ visit and subsequent enrolment into the cutest vampire in Sugar Factory’s food chain is a joyous hoot) and unstinting cutups (Raymond’s medical prowess comes to the fore in a split-second lobotomy that puts a very different twist onto the Nancy boy’s ability to give head) that are carefully balanced with glimpses of care and familial love.
With so many points of view (the subtle theme of a cuckoo’s nest is especially fun) to choose from, it will be hard for anyone not to enjoy this blood-fest with a heart. JWR