Blind dates are always an interesting experience. Like most things, they can go one of two ways: well, or not so well. You run the risk of commiting to a long interaction with a person you do not get along with at all, or you get the awesome experience of meeting a person that you mesh really well with that you never would have known otherwise. Last Sunday, I had a blind date with the Rude Mechanicals’s production of “Let the Right One In.”
It started off pretty well; the show started on time and the set was beautiful. However, the conversation I was about to have was dramatically different than I was expecting. I was expecting a performance about letting the right people into your life, or something along those lines. However, when the production opened with a gruesome murder, I was surprised, to say the least.
One might expect someone writing a review of this play to have done a little more research before actually seeing said play. While most of the time I agree, the initial, raw reactions are also interesting and noteworthy.
The story follows a young boy, Oskar, and his recently established friendship with the new girl in town, Eli. Amid merciless bullying and a less than great life at home, Oskar’s relationship with his new friend blossoms. However, Oskar starts to realize a connection between the sudden murders in the town with the appearance of Eli.
After such an intense opening scene, I was hooked. Director James Harbaugh seemed to do everything in his power to grab the audience and keep them intrigued from the get-go in this almost three-hour performance. The opening details seemed perfect; the beautiful set, complete with seemingly realistic snow and trees, created an eerie environment that portrayed the dark woods of a Norwegian town quite well. Seeing the snow fly up in gusts as characters ran from stage left to stage right reminded me of winter here in Mich.
The production used a fitting soundtrack of industrial-based synth music, adding tension to climaxes and atmosphere to other scenes. However, there were times when it felt like the production seemed to rely a bit too much on the music for each of those things. One of the biggest action sequences towards the end felt slightly reliant on the sudden burst of sound to startle the audience, when the screams and movement on stage were just as alarming. These effects definitely added to the experience, but they crept a bit too much into the fore every once in a while.
Relationships between characters proved to be a central element throughout the play, whether it be Oskar’s relationship with Eli, his bully or his separated parents. The production does this quite well through juxtaposition. Slight changes in SMTD Junior Bryan Chan’s portrayal of Oskar highlighted the other characters’ current struggles with relationships. Even Oskar’s lonesome walks across the stage through the fake snow displayed elements of character development.
SMTD Sophomore Emma Steiner’s portrayal of Eli, however, was absolutely haunting. Every action she performed gave more and more depth to her character. From every breath she took to every scream she belted, it felt as if it was coming from a 200 year-old vampire. And not the vampires that “Twilight” glamorized: Her portrayal was monstrous, sickening and terrifying at times, yet I felt sympathy for her. I wasn’t disgusted, and I wasn’t sure why. That level of depth from the character, even after killing and dining on blood, had me concerned for the characters’ safety and well-being at times.
The production was dark, both physically and conceptually. However, while there were small, more subtle instances of comic relief inserted (and I mean, very subtle), the audience seemed to crack up at these small moments, almost ruining the mood and continuity of the performance for me. This isn’t necessarily a critique of the performance itself, just an observation on going to a live event. You’re in the space with other people, and that adds to the aspect of live performance, whether you like it to or not. The date itself was great, it’s just that the atmosphere was a bit distracting.
I regret not seeing more student theater productions here on campus. As someone who has only briefly participated on stage, I really respect the work these students put into their craft, and after working on multiple projects with actors both in and outside of the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, I know how talented they are. After a successful first date, to say that I’m excited for more dates with the Rude Mechanicals would be an understatement.