Written by Joseph Wilde
Directed by Rebecca Atkinson-Lord
With her all-black wardrobe and crimson lips, businesswoman Tabby (Rendah Heywood) looks a bit like a B movie Transylvanian. But it’s her little sister Eve (Carla Langley) who actually is a vampire. At least, that’s the role she accepts in the complicated contract between the two siblings. While Tabby is out working, Eve stays shut up in a dingy room with fairy tales and Harry Potter novels providing her only connection to the outside world. Like all members of her species, she cannot go out in the daylight and requires regular feedings of human blood. Tabby opens her veins now and then, but she’s hardly a model nurturer. In fact, she forces Eve to live in abject squalor. Wearing the same grubby tee shirt and knickers day after day, Eve never bathes and uses two buckets (color-coded for each body function) instead of a toilet. Psychologically, too, Tabby maintains tight supervision over her sister’s behavior. Questions on certain topics are forbidden, and physical affection is carefully quantified. Obviously, a bizarre family system like this one can only hold for so long. Eva’s in her teens now: not so easily managed. And Tabby has found a fellow she’s interested in dating. It’s unlikely Tabby fears her new boyfriend is unlikely to understand her situation, and she grows increasingly desperate as Eve threatens to destroy her one chance at happiness. Tables turn and long-held secrets bubble to the surface as the play careens toward its harrowing conclusion.
Although it’s ostensibly a vampire play, the moral question CUDDLES posits has more in common with Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s “Frankenstein” than with Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”. Who is the bigger monster here, the creature, or its creator? Wisely, playwright Joseph Wilde doesn’t spoon feed us the answer, but lets the allegorical echoes reverberate as we watch the creepy interplay between the two women. From a logical perspective, there are some holes in the plot. Even after Eve’s origin story is revealed, there’s still no explanation as to why Tabby feels the need to keep her in such subhuman surroundings. Looked at metaphorically, though, Eve represents a frighteningly real phenomenon. We’re all haunted by our past mistakes, and often we construct emotional attics wherein we try – in vain – to hide our demons.
Director Rebecca Atkinson-Lord highlights this psychical realism by keeping the cast grounded and authentic. Heywood encapsulates Tabby’s appetite for authority as well as the vulnerability and fear that prompts her to seek control. Langley is both frighteningly volatile and heartbreakingly sympathetic as the needy woman-child whose hunger has been ignored for too long. The dankness and despair of Eve’s secluded world is eerily evoked by James Turner’s scenic design and Pablo Baz’s lighting.
CUDDLES continues through June 28, 2015 at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street between Park and Madison Avenues. Tickets: 212-279-4200 or online at 59E59.ORG.