The Red Moon - musical-vampire-love story, which recently completed a one-month run at Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre in September - bears some superficial resemblance to Courting Vampires, which we reviewed a few years ago. Once again, the story presents an older sister rescuing a younger sibling (in this case, Roxana, played by Lara Lihiya) from the dangers of vampirism; familial bonds and obligations entangle and run afoul of personal desires, leaving the audience to ponder the extent to which the concerned sister is seeking to help Roxana rather than to punish her for her transgression.
The difference is that, whereas Courting Vampires positioned itself as a metaphor for AIDS (with the protagonist seeking revenge against the man who infected her younger sister), The Red Moon feels like a take on drug addiction and recidivism. Roxana is at loose ends since the demise of the vampire who turned her to the dark side; she recruits Anthony (Jason Britt), and the two embark an a whirlwind of sanguinary nightclub predations, until a family intervention cures Roxana of her vampirism. However, the cure is not the end of the story, for Anthony is still out there. Not only is he a troublesome reminder of Roxana's recent depravity; he is a sort of lingering moral obligation - the man she introduced to the world of vampirism, only to abandon him while seeking her own salvation. Can Roxana do for Anthony what her sister did for her? Or will the attempt backfire, dragging her back into the world of darkness?
Befitting the musical form, The Red Moon initially comes off as amusingly exaggerated, with tongue pressed firmly in cheek. It's not enough for the sisters to be different; they must be polar opposites: one a moralistic prig; the other literal vamp in slut clothing. Likewise, Anthony's transition from human to vampire is a 180-degree flip-flop from mealy-mouthed worm to magnetic vampire heart-throb. Hitting these dualities so firmly on the nose generates deliberate chuckles, especially when the scenes are backed by songs.
Unfortunately, as the play moves into its second half, the humor abates, but the histrionics continue, rendering the conclusion in melodramatic terms that the story's emotional underpinnings never fully justify. The tragic ending still packs some punch, but it's hard to build to a climax when the dialogue is pumped up to 11 the entire time.
The musical numbers are hit-and-miss. Some are performed with live keyboard accompaniment; others were synced to pre-recorded music. The cast clearly had an easier time saying in tune and on tempo with the former, including a show-stopping Gershwinesque blues number, sung by Lihiya, which merited an enthusiastic round of applause on the night we attended.
The other cast members fare less well with the vocals but give good performances overall. Though Britt is passable as a rock-n-roll screamer, carrying a melody is a bit out of his reach; fortunately, - his stage presence is more than ample compensation, filling the venue with energetic athleticism (he makes one exit by climbing up a wall and out a window!).
This kind of dynamic staging keeps The Red Moon glowing despite the overwrought tone. Without benefit of scenery or much in the way of props, the rapid exits and entrances convey a multitude of scene changes within the small, unadorned theatre. In the end, whatever its mis-steps, The Red Moon leaves viewers with an intriguing question: When you have bestowed the dark gift upon another, is it fair to save your own soul and leave your victim behind?