Vampire Lesbians infest Greensboro

by Amy Kingsley

A converted college computer lab in the middle of the day usually doesn’t have much in common with a cramped studio space carved out of a renovated building that’s set for an audience at midnight in downtown Greensboro. Unless of course said lab features a graduate theater student trying his darnedest to navigate its length in black pumps.

Such is the situation endured by three of the four cast members in Charles Busch’s one-act play “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom.”

On a midweek afternoon in a wing of UNCG’s Taylor Theater building, director/professor Jim Wren rehearses a particularly climactic scene with three of his actors: Brad Brown, Ambien Mitchell and Jon Douglas.

Almost three weeks ago they and their castmate appropriated this space for a class cum production concocted in tandem with Triad Stage for the Theatre 232 series. In little more than a week and a half, they will open the camp classic in a small space ensconced deep inside the Pyrle Theater done up with Mylar ribbons and feathers.

“In Bram Stoker’s Dracula when Gary Oldman comes on it’s almost like he’s floating,” Wren says. “It’s almost one single motion that guides you around.”

Brown, stubbly of chin and dressed otherwise inconspicuously in a T-shirt and jeans, absorbs the information and strides forward on his heels.

“Seeing you walk in those now,” Wren says, “and without knowing at all myself how it really feels to walk in heels, it looks to me that you are taking awfully big steps.”

“Vampire Lesbians” tells the tale of two fatally seductive vampires, and is nearly always produced in conjunction with Busch’s “Sleeping Beauty or Coma,” a mod take on the old Hans Christian Andersen tale. Both will be performed by UNCG students at night after Triad Stage’s production of Tobacco Road starting this Friday.

“One of the things about Charles Busch is that he wrote as shocking a title as he could,” Wren says. “‘Vampire Lesbians’ may be one of the least offensive shows out there.”

Wren says he expects some people to be shocked by the title of the play UNCG has chosen for its annual summer collaboration, but he does think Greensboro has an audience willing to buy tickets for the late-night romp.

“It is fun,” he says. “It’s like a cross between a good ghost story and Monty Python.”

“With cross-dressing” is the part he doesn’t add. But his students, in addition to learning how to vamp in heels, have already gained plenty from the abbreviated experience.

“I am continuing to learn about comedy because comedy is so hard to do,” Douglas says. “People come in like they are daring me to make them laugh. I struggle with making it a mind game of what is funny.”

Brown chimes in, his pumps now traded for sneakers.

“I have to try to forget in the moment that I’m trying to make people laugh,” he says. “And working on Tobacco Road and [children’s show] Carolina Jack at the same time has been a real mind-fuck.”

Oddly enough Mitchell, the only cast member at rehearsal not learning to walk in foot-mangling stilettos, is the first to offer her lessons from the gender-bending exercise.

“Watching these guys play a woman teaches you how to be a better woman,” she says. “Women forget that they have power and allure. But when you see these men capture it and reflect it back, you remember.”

Brown struggles with the mechanics of his size 12 heels. They are slipping off the backs of his feet.

“Isn’t it a little more heel-toe?” Wren asks.

Both Douglas and Mitchell nod and set to prancing about the room in their best approximations of Brown’s target gait. Wren steps into the fray and demonstrates a hip bump that will come into play later in the scene. The physical demonstrations degenerate until Brown starts dancing the Macarena. When it’s suggested that he just might incorporate that into the show, he rolls his eyes.

“We’ve already got Thriller in there,” he says. “We’re playing with the Hammer dance, the flowing robot and the Billy Jean.”

Then, heels and all, he starts to moonwalk.

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