Firebase Productions

at Chicago Filmmakers

You’ve heard of experimental theater. I was ready to go beyond that on Saturday night, to burst the boundaries of journalism and do some experimental criticism. So I took a smart drug before the opening of Dark Romance. Thought I could pull a Hunter S. Thompson type of thing, call it “Fear and Loathing on Belmont Avenue.” Thought these smart drugs (sold for four bucks in the lobby before the show) might somehow catapult me into another intellectual dimension, make me see things I’d never seen before–make me, in short, hypersmart.

But because smart drugs are so dang safe–a combination of organic apple juice, gotu kola root, ginkgo leaf, skullcap, and other herbs available at your local health-food store–my inner reality wasn’t altered one bit. I guess I’m lucky. If I’d taken a powerful controlled substance, I probably would have freaked out and had funky nightmares about being trapped in a virtual reality wth lesbian vampires. It’s not as farfetched as it seems.

Dark Romance, by Michael Flores and Amy Osborn, follows the eternal life of Carmilla (Osborn), a vampire who also happens to be a lesbian. It’s set in two periods: “a long time ago” and “in the future, the near future,” as Flores says before the show. “A long time ago” Carmilla satisfies her blood lust in the traditional neck-biting manner. “In the future” she avoids murder by satisfying her cravings through a combination of virtual reality and biocoupling.

For those of you in dire need of smart drugs (or who didn’t get to read the press release), biocoupling is a “method of attaching man-made structures to human molecules.” According to a U.S. Department of Defense report, biocoupling has already been tested by the Army as protection against chemical warfare. Other possible applications mentioned in the report include the correction of “character flaws.”

In Dark Romance the government considers vampirism a character flaw. Its manipulation of Carmilla’s activity through virtual reality and biocoupling is presented as a very possible evil to be avoided at all costs.

Call me crazy, but this seems a rather humanistic alternative to the old method of eliminating vampires by driving a stake through their hearts. The problem with Dark Romance is that it really isn’t about vampires. It seems to want to be about the persecution of social deviants, i.e., homosexuals. Government manipulation of human sexual activity through virtual reality and biocoupling–now there’s food for thought.

This idea lurks below the surface but never shows its head. Throughout the play Carmilla’s sexuality is never challenged. Despite her orgiastic rituals with occult writer Aleister Crowley (Tom McCreary) and choreographer Isadora Duncan (Kristen Hornlien), vampire hunter Jonathan Harker seeks only to destroy vampires. Harker (played by Olaf Hartwig) couldn’t care less about Carmilla’s sexual preference or Crowley’s activities, which in his days had branded him “the most evil man who ever lived.” Nor does he seem interested in Duncan’s nude performances, which shocked some members of her Victorian audiences.

Although Dark Romance is thoroughly entertaining, playwrights Flores and Osborn seem more interested in experimenting with theater than in thinking about what they really want to say. Smart drugs served in the lobby, virtual-reality videos by David Foss, lots of stage blood, and homosexual activity all make for a novel theatrical experience. And Dark Romance is actually a lot of fun. But experimentation for the sake of experimentation doesn’t cut it. By the end of the show Carmilla’s gory victory over yet another attempt to kill her seems pretty meaningless. You don’t need smart drugs to know that vampires are invincible.