When I was eight years old, I was taken to the local drive-in movie, where I saw Franco Zeffirelli’s unforgettable Romeo and Juliet—and the outrageously strange Battle Beneath the Earth. I was thinking of this oddly matched double feature at the recent opening weekend of Cinnabar Theater’s own unlikely pairing: We “♥” U, Nosferatu, a world premiere one-act comedy by L.A. screenwriter Jack Paglen, and The Medium, a short, dramatic 1946 opera by composer Gian Carlo Menotti.
Clearly, these two plays couldn’t be more different. Still, there is something appetizing about this odd evening of theater, like eating vanilla ice cream drizzled with balsamic vinegar; served together, each brings out unexpected flavors in the other.
In Nosferatu, directed with wicked glee by Beth Craven, main character Dean (Keith Baker) receives a mysterious package from someone named Mary Anne Wexler, founder of the Southeast Idaho chapter of something called Moms for Edward. Dean is baffled by the package, accompanied by a letter filled with references to “Team Edward” and “Team Jacob,” and packed with bizarre questions (“Does your skin sparkle?”).
It’s clear that she has identified him as a real-life vampire—in fact, as none other than Count Dracula. “I found you!” she writes, her off-the-rocker stalker vibe compounded by having cased his condo on the internet: “I bet you weren’t expecting Google Maps back when you were impaling people in 1390!”
Encouraged to contact her on Skype, Dean begins talking with Mary Anne (a hilarious Allison Rae Baker, Skyping in her pitch-perfect performance from backstage). Clearly, she’s been bitten by the Twilight bug, and that popular series gets skewered in the loopy Twilight tribute Mary Anne has patched together for Dean’s edification. Eventually, she’s joined on the Skype screen by fellow Mom for Edward Dottie—a sidesplitting performance by Mary Gannon Graham—who keeps asking Dean to take his shirt off.
Partly a parody of the current cultural obsession with vampires (including references to True Blood and The Vampire Diaries), Paglen’s clever script also examines the nature of evil and whether popular culture, by turning its greatest icons of evil into objects of sexual desire, has lost something significant in the translation. It’s a very, very funny show that actually has something juicy to say.
The Medium, directed by Elly Lichenstein and with music direction by Amy Glenn, also has something to say. Monica (beautifully played and sung by Emma McNairy) is the abused daughter of alcoholic con-woman Baba (a wonderful performance by Valentina Osinski), who ekes out a living by pretending to be a medium. She goes by the name Madame Flora, and preys on grieving parents eager to speak with their dead children. Baba involves the reluctant Monica in her schemes, also employing a mute Gypsy boy Toby (Lukas Thompson), who not so secretly loves Monica.
Things turn serious when Baba begins to believe that real spirits have been conjured, and they are angry with her for cheating so many people. As all operas of this kind must do, the story leads to tragedy. Taken with Nosferatu, Menotti’s lovely examination of the power of belief gives us the satisfying, full-spectrum opportunity to laugh, and then to cry.
‘We “♥” U, Nosferatu!’ and ‘The Medium’ run Friday&–Sunday through Nov. 21 at Cinnabar Theater. Friday&–Saturday at 8pm; Sunday at 2pm. 3333 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma. $20&–$35. 707.763.8920.