Jack Thorne Mingles Bat Love with Modern Mayhem
by Barry David Horwitz
“Let the Right One In” offers a theatrical spectacle that mingles slow moving horror with intimate adolescent yearnings—Romeo and Juliet with vampires. Horrors that keep popping up when we least expect them. We could focus on the psychological traumas of the two teen age lovers, or we can wonder what’s wrong with the adults in this cold, forbidding world.
The adults in this haunted Scandinavian fairy tale are mean and nasty. Jack Thorne’s version of the Swedish novel features self-centered parents, clueless townspeople, a tone-deaf gym teacher and a bumbling policeman.
The stage is startlingly set with a bold stand of tall, scrawny birch trees with amputated branches, rising to an empty heaven. When a murderer asks a villager for the time, he gases the victim, strings him up, and drains the blood from his neck. It’s the first of several shocking bloodletting scenes in a world at war with itself. Shades of Verona!
Vampires embody the crucial elements of this deceptively ordinary world—they suck up all the poison and venom that flows in the blood of these northern peoples. The vampire is the symptom of the villagers’ attempts to control and suppress human urges. Social control becomes a murderous commonplace.
Rampant high school bullies reflect the selfish, individualistic world that surrounds Oskar, a frail boy. Diego Lucano makes a touching Oskar, a teen searching for love in a hostile, ugly culture. We are fascinated by the bigger bullies who sense his insecurity. Michael Johnston and Jon Demegillo play the boys who prey on him, calling him “Piggie.” A world of vampires in training.
Into this dark, self-conscious, boisterous village moves a “girl” named Eli (hypnotic Noah Lamanna) and her “father” Hakkan (spooky Richard Topol). They turn out to be something other than what they seem. Lamanna beautifully embodies a long-lived vampire, an avatar of daily life amid greed and suffering.
Gripping balletic scenes highlight the vampire seductions that drain the life from innocents. The boys dance in bold mock battles, games that prepare for aggression, sucking the life from young and old. As Eli, Lamanna, a non-binary actor, dances in brief choreographed sequences. In eccentric dances, their elbows rise and head bows down, looking downright bat-like.
The misery reaches right down to the kids—who battle, belittle, and batter each other—imitating the adult world—the violence, the alcoholic mom, the selfish dad. Living in that world, they wait for the next massacre. Sadistic behavior rules home, family, school. “Something’s rotten in the State . . . ”
As the old catastrophes pop up in shocking surprises, the vampire makes themself an integral part. They can solve a Rubik’s Cube to perfection but cannot deal with the social distrust. Settle back and await the bittersweet conclusion to teen-age love–a touching ending.
What happens to the boy and the girl is shocking and yet, inevitable—there are no answers here. “Let the Right One In” sounds a warning and provides a clear-eyed depiction in thrilling dramatic terms of Hamlet’s existential question and Romeo and Juliet’s doomed love.
“Let the Right One In” –a stage adaptation by Jack Thorne, based on the Swedish novel & film by John Ajvide Lindqvist, directed by John Tiffany, movement by Steven Hoggett, National Theatre of Scotland Production, at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Info: BerkeleyRep.org – to June 25, 2023.
Cast: Jon Demegillo, Jack DiFalco, Erik Hellman, Michael Johnston, Noah Lamanna, Diego Lucano, Nicole Shalhoub, Julius Thomas III, and Richard Topol.
Banner photo: Noah Lamanna (Eli) & Diego Lucano (Oskar). Photos by Kevin Berne