Story: Eve spends her entire life in her squalid little room. Her only contact with the outside world is her older sister Tabby, who has a job that pays the mortgage, the utilities and any food that Tabby buys for herself.
Tabby visits Eve regularly, sometimes even allowing her to suck blood from Tabby’s arm. That’s because Eve is a vampire and needs to drink blood for sustenance and survival. She stays in her room since she lives by a set of 13 rigid rules established by Tabby, one of which states that a vampire can die only by sunlight, decapitation or a wooden stake driven through its heart. “That would kill most anyone,” theorizes Eve.
Eve spends her days reciting fairy tales and looking forward to Tabby’s arrival. Tabby even has placed two boxes in Eve’s filthy little room that serve as her younger sister’s toilet, underscoring Eve's confinement. She also occasionally shackles her teenage sister when she thinks that Eve needs to be “punished.”
As depressing as this life is, it gets suddenly worse when Tabby grows weary of her own lonely existence and searches for something better. If she finds it, will she leave her captive sister behind? What will become of Eve?
Highlights: Just a tad late for Halloween, Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble’s “Season of Adaptation” continues with a top-notch rendering of a macabre, ghastly and fascinating tale written by English playwright Joseph Wilde.
Cuddles is smart, savage and shocking in both its dialogue and SATE’s superb production, which features finely tuned direction by Joe Hanrahan and a pair of stunning performances by Rachel Tibbetts and Ellie Schwetye.
Other Info: Wilde’s one-act, debut drama originally was produced in England in 2011 and later staged in New York in 2015. At 90 minutes, Cuddles is taut, tense and tingling with a raw suspense that settles into one’s skin like flesh-eating bacteria.
The set designed by Bess Moynihan, like the New York version, features an array of tattered newspapers adorning both the front and back of the stage, encased in a plastic sheath. Moynihan’s stark lighting accentuates Eve’s grubby surroundings, which include a grimy bed, filthy walls and a smattering of books strewn about.
Elizabeth Henning’s costume design sharply contrasts the slick business attire favored by Tabby (essentially in black), while Eve is confined primarily to a soiled, sordid gown with just a momentary uplift from a pretty dress purchased spontaneously for her by Tabby. Hanrahan’s sound design is an odd but appealing blend of classic rock and more modern elements, while Pamela Reckamp provides suitable dialect coaching.
Hanrahan heightens the tension by making adroit use of the entire stage, which expands beyond Eve’s repressed living quarters to the once genteel house where Tabby roams as her name implies. In that more spacious realm Tabby speaks directly to a subordinate at work whom she handles in vengeful fashion to even a score leveled against her late father, or to converse with a nice young man she meets somewhere and invites back to her lair.
For Tibbetts and Schwetye, who continue to elevate the caliber of their work, Cuddles (the title comes from Eve’s requests for hugs, etc., for emotional salvation) may mark their best efforts to date.
Tibbetts is wild-eyed and feral from the start, looking antithetical to the refined, upper-class English diction she uses in reciting her favorite fairy tale, hair unkempt, gown soiled, remnants of blood spattered about. She portrays the younger sister effectively enough to evoke considerable sympathy and sorrow for Eve’s plight despite her appearance.
Schwetye, in turn, stylishly shows the audience a Tabby who is steely and deceptively strong on the surface. Slowly and carefully she reveals the older sister’s long-standing psychological scars and the damage wrought by too close proximity to human vampires that have sucked resistance from her soul.
Cuddles is a chilling monster story made all the more riveting by the superior work of its performers. See it and you’ll likely add it to your own personal list of what goes bump in the night.
Company: Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble
Venue: The Chapel, 6238 Alexander Drive
Dates: November 9, 10, 11, 12
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Joey Rumpell