Write this down in your journals, post it on your Facebook, tweet it to your tens of followers, theaterati: Kevin J. Thornton and Enoch Porch are ridiculously talented! And there's no better way to celebrate the festive Halloween season than with these two-and their gorgeous and versatile cohort/partner-in-theatrical crime Jennifer Richmond-in a performance of Into the Darkness: A Vampire Musical, now onstage at Chaffin's Backstage at the Barn through October 27.
Frighteningly funny, endlessly charming and amazingly smart, this creative take-off on bad horror films is just the ticket for audiences looking to scare up some fun before hitting the trick-or-treat trail-which is just one long night of extortion wrapped up in homemade costumes sticky from too many caramel apples and melting chocolate. And just as Halloween seems to be a monster mash-up of confectionary sweets, horrific gore, blood and guts, and more fun than a barrel of apples, Into the Darkness will have you guffawing in response to the over-the-top antics of the terrific three-member troupe just as often as it'll have you recoiling in horror at the melodramatic plot points.
Written with ghoulish abandon and tongue-in-cheek nuance by Thornton and Porch, Into the Darkness tells the story of a happy young couple (played by Porch and Richmond) whom, through the magic of video projection, we come to know from the start of their sweetly romantic courtship. Let's go to the videotape, Amanda (Lamb, the stage manager): We see "the woman" (Richmond) and "the man" (Porch) fairly skipping through a country meadow, flying up to the sky on a playground swing, shoving wedding cake into each other's gaping mouths and suddenly realizing just how stultifyingly boring and formulaic marriage can become.
Enter the dark and dangerous interloper, the Vampire (Thornton) who will make a cuckold of the man while stealing away his wife to become his undead minion and sex slave. More or less.
Directed by Martha Wilkinson (who's been keeping the Tennessee backroads hot for the past month or so, directing Into the Darkness in west Nashville and productions of David Alford's Smoke and Spirit of the Bell Witch up in Adams-with nary a bloody hand found attached to the door handles of her car afterward or at least none of which we have heard), Into the Darkness is fast-paced, creatively staged and clever as all get out. Sharply written and affectionately drawn, the characters are horror movie archetypes: the dewy-eyed young couple and the sinister and sexy vampire who comes between them.
In addition to composing the show, writing the lyrics and crafting the storyline, Thornton and Porch perform all the music, proving their estimable talents on everything from an acoustic guitar and a Chinese gong to a handsaw with beautiful, other-worldly music emanating from it. It's not beyond the pale to suggest Into the Darkness is a tour-de-force for the show's creators.
Frankly, it's hard to tell you about the show without spoiling its impact, so that's all you'll get in this review. But it should be noted that the music draws you into the story instantly; it's tuneful and memorable and features some terrific lyrics that betray the writers' intelligence and wit. Plus, there's a disembodied skull, who's far more Sesame Street than 1313 Mockingbird Lane, who'll have you LOLing all over the place even before the show starts and again at intermission.
Richmond again displays her wide-ranging abilities-there's nothing she can't do onstage apparently-while Porch's warmth (yes, warmth-or hotness, depending upon your perspective) helps him project his winning personality, while Thornton evokes his own brand of vampiric sensuality, made all the more potent by eyeliner and a flowing black cape. The trio of performers, who have stage presence galore, deliver a completely engaging and believable 90-minute show (that seems far shorter, truth be told) that is completely sung-through, unless you count a few grunts, groans and audible shivers-and a talking Barbie doll-while taking you on a roller-coaster ride of theatrical proportions. And there's a memorable car chase scene that you are likely to remember for years to come (but I swear to God that's all you'll get out of me).