‘Hairy Beasts’: Blood and gore can be great fun


Michael Underhill as The Hero in "Vampirella." Photo: Roger Metcalf.

Michael Underhill as The Hero in “Vampirella.” Photo: Roger Metcalf.

BOSTON — The Emerging Theatre Company program at the Boston Center for the Arts gives young companies a chance to get their footing, strut their stuff and find an audience in the high-profile Plaza Black Box Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts on Tremont Street.
The Imaginary Beasts Theater Company is one of those companies, and they are currently staging through Oct. 26 “Angela Carter’s Hairy Tales,” live performances of three of Carter’s radio plays: “The Company of Wolves,” her take on “Little Red Riding Hood”; “Vampirella,” a fresh take on “Sleeping Beauty“; and Carter‘s version of “Puss ‘n Boots” for the younger set.
“The Company of Wolves” and “Vampirella” are presented together, with matinees for “Puss in Boots.”
Carter (1940-1992) was an English short story writer, novelist, journalist, dramatist and critic. According to her biography, she was notable practitioner of magic realism, and her work blends Gothic themes, postmodernist eclecticism, violence, and eroticism.
It is apparent from the opening lines of “Wolves” and the expressive scene-setting done by the narrator (Amy Meyer) and the lengthy descriptions of characters and situations suggest that her other writing disciplines have heavily influenced her radio plays.
The erotic nature of both the adult pieces is suggested more than staged, but the themes explored by the two pieces are strictly for adults — we’re talking cannibalism, vampires, werewolves, plenty of blood and folks getting eaten — not that there’s anything wrong with that, especially when it’s skillfully staged and acted.
“The Company of Wolves” is about women and their wolves — what is it about those hairy bad boys that can get the otherwise sensible Little Red Riding Hood (Erin Butcher) swooning at the sight of the Huntsman (Michael Underhill), who unfortunately is not quite what he seems to be when he agrees to seal their deal with a kiss — back at Grandma’s House. Bad news for grandma, as you might expect, but also what happens next you might not expect, either.
Of the two pieces, I favored “Vampirella,” the story of the undead Countess (Poornima Kirby and Amy Meyer) who awaits just the right to change — really change — her life.
Funny Michael Underhill is a hoot in his cheeky performance as The Hero, the virginal, innocent Brit who goes cycling on holiday in the Carpathians — what could go wrong? — and stumbles and finds himself enmeshed in a Gothic horror show of the first order.
There are clear echoes of “Rocky Horror Picture Show” and Underhill is delightfully over the top in his portrayal of our hero, who doesn’t quite understand the concept of vampirism and the effect it has on the otherwise desirable Countess.
The Countess is played simultaneously by Amy Meyer, in a white muslin dress with pink stains, and Poornima Kirby, in a hoop-skirt frame, the two actresses alternating the Countess’s lines or repeating them. I took this to mean the two sides of the character — the vampire she is and the lovely, innocent human she could one day be again if the right person were to come along.
Our Hero finds the Countess quite a beauty, if it weren’t for those pointed teeth and those eyes — oh, those eyes. Still, Our Hero believes he can save her, if he can just get her to a therapist in Vienna
William Schuller is The Count — think appearance-wise a huge, hulking, menacing Nosferatu.
Kamelia Beane is Mrs. Beane, the countess’ governess who has a bit of a sordid backstory herself involving — ahem — cannibalism
Director Matthew Woods shows a deft touch with this genre and contributes some nice scenic touches.
Sam Beebe’s music and sound effectively accompanies the Gothic themes of both pieces, and Kiki Samko contributes some lively choreography in “Wolves.”
Imaginary Beasts is making its mark on the Boston theater scene with edgy, interesting works and clever, creative staging.
The Imaginary Beasts production of Angela Carter’s “Hairy Tales” at the Plaza Black Box Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts through Oct. 26. Directed by Matthew Woods. Costume design by Cotton Talbot-Minkin. Lighting design by Chris Bocchiaro. Music composition and sound by Sam Beebe. Set design by Matthew Woods. State manager, Deidre Benson. Choreography by Kiki Samko. Production manager Lizette Morris. Imaginarybeasts.org.