On Saturday night, I went to see Let the Right One In at St. Ann’s Warehouse in NYC. Based on John Ajvide Lindqvist‘s novel and film, both by the same name, the play tells the story of a peculiar friendship between Oskar, a young boy, and Eli, who seems like a young girl who lives next door.
Odds are, you know what happens next. The film was something of a minor sensation when it came out, and you probably recall that the girl is actually a vampire.
Except, not really.
For one thing, she’s not exactly a girl. “I’m not a girl. I’m not a boy. I’m not anything, I’m nothing!” she says at one point. And she might not be a vampire either. That word is never uttered in the course of the play, and at the moment it’s about to be she insists ferociously that she’s “Not that! Never that!”
The piece is filled with unanswered questions — about Eli’s gender both now and in the past, about what she is and how she got that way, about the reasons for her flat and abrasive affect, and about her motives. One of the most weirdly shocking moments of the piece is when she insists to Oskar she has money, and then proves it by pulling a Faberge egg out of the trunk in which she sleeps. The egg is never addressed further and barely explained (“What’s it for?” Oskar asks. “For having,” Eli says, both disinterested and certain). But despite its mystery, that egg feels indicative of the great wrongness that has led to the current circumstances of murder in a small town, isolation, and the desperation of friendship.
Presented in a dreamy movement-heavy manner with a filmic score, Let the Right One In is consistently seductive, but in a manner completely inconsistent with vampire mythos. There is no desire for glamor or eternal life here. Instead the desire engendered by the play focuses on the methodical nature life in a small town, the strength to do what it is necessary, and the silencing power of snow.
Oskar’s encounters with bullies that help drive an otherwise languid narrative towards a jarring conclusion may be difficult for some audience members to endure. A significant number of effects involve copious stage blood, and one — thanks to the addition of excellent light and sound work — is genuinely terrifying thanks to the startle factor.
The performances are uniformly brave, but Rebecca Benson‘s demanding work as Eli possesses a disturbing intricacy that gyrates between flat and fey.
Ultimately, the show is driven by silence and physical language. And while the audience engages it as an often amused collective (Both Oskar and Eli are, at times, hilarious; and we are addressed in turn as concerned citizens and frightened children by police authorities as the murders in the town are investigated), after it was over it was difficult to speak, as if over its two-and-a-half hours we had all moved from identifying with Oskar to becoming something just a little bit like Eli.
Strange, hard to describe theater, but wildly recommended. The show was supposed to have closed this past weekend, but is now running at St. Ann’s Warehouse through March 8.