The National Theater of Scotland has outdone itself with this masterful and ingenious production playing through March 8th at St Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn.
I want to preface everything by stating that I am an elitist connoisseur of the horror genre. My first re-occuring nightmare committed to memory happened before the age of five and involved the penetrating eyes of Bela Lugosi’s Dracula. I am of the strong opinion that vampires should never, under any circumstances, sparkle! The original 2008 Swedish film by John Ajvide Lindqvist came out just in time to counterbalance the over-romanticized, teenage fluff that was the Twilight series. Let the Right One In was bleak and sad, and spoke of the loneliness and emptiness of eternal life. I loved this film. I devoured the novel. I even appreciated the value that a larger budget brought to the American remake, though I preferred the starkness of the original. I could not imagine how this film, with all its gruesome effects, could translate to the stage. That is because I lack the brilliant vision and creative insight of director John Tiffany, who also directed the stage from screen version of Once with the same out-of-the-box ingenuity.
As soon as I laid eyes on the set – barren birch trees in the snow surrounding a solitary jungle gym – I knew he had it right. He immediately captured the essence of the film. The set is both beautiful and haunting and as the audience filters in, you occasionally see the townspeople just passing through. You feel the cold air as people trudge through the forest, going about their lives, and you are immediately enmeshed in the atmosphere. Then the play begins with a scene so horrific in nature, you can’t believe you are seeing it on stage. I honestly don’t know how the special effects guy pulled it off but kudos to Jeremy Chernick!! No spoilers from me. The scene itself is worth the price of admission.
The casting is flawless. Rebecca Benson (Eli) perfectly embodies that socially awkward girl most of us avoided in high school. Her lack of social skills and her peculiar gait make her a stranger in a strange land, yet she is endearing and completely compelling. I could not take my eyes off her for an instant. Her counterpart and young love interest (Oskar) is played with honesty and vulnerability by Christian Ortega. Another social outcast, Oskar is mercilessly bullied at school and has an unhappy home life as well, with an absent father and a well meaning but ineffectual mother who drinks too much. A lyrical bedtime ballet between them suggests that her narcissistic focus borders on the inappropriate. It is no wonder that Oskar is drawn to this odd girl who is seemingly impervious to the cold and is as alone and in need as he is.
Rounding out the pivotal characters is Cliff Burnett as Hakan, who walks deftly down the line between heartbreaking and horrific. He evokes tremendous pathos even as you sit shellshocked by his actions. Many ambiguities in the film are made clearer in this production. Knowing the film gives you a point of reference but is not at all needed to be captivated by this stupendous production. At intermission, I was gushing that I hadn’t seen anything that effected me this much since I saw Brief Encounter a few years earlier. A fellow patron brought to my attention that Brief Encounter started at St Ann’s Warehouse as well. This prompted my husband to wonder aloud if “everything they do is this good!” In my eyes, the bar has been set very high and it will be quite the challenge to create a night of theater with much magic and mayhem as Let the Right One In. I urge you all to grab this opportunity while you can. I wish I had the means to give this production eternal life, but those who see it in this incarnation will have something to tell future generations. I would love to see Broadway take a stab at this one!