The Count's Den: Bite (Halloween Theatre Review)

Bite offers an intimate dining experience with clan of vampires on their home turf, The Count's Den in downtown Los Angeles. Throughout the evening, you interact with half a dozen hospitable blood-drinkers, learning their interests and obsessions, perhaps fending off their advances. You seem immune from their unholy thirst, but amidst drinks and diversions, you hear whispered secrets about your absent host, confined to a room upstairs for reasons that may have much to do with the safety of everyone on the premises - even his undead family. Fascination overcomes fear, and you remain, but you have to wonder: Will you survive the evening?

With all of this going on, what more could one want from Bite? Aye, there's the rub. For now, let us say that Chekhov's famous admonition about a loaded gun applies equally well to a ravenous vampire, and it's not enough to simply fire the weapon; the playwright must also show who gets shot.

Bite Halloween Theatre Review: The Count's Den
Count's Den Bite Review
Vampires in their dining hall

The Count's Den is a wonderful venue for an immersive, interactive theatrical experience. With its red walls and sombre lighting (perhaps festive by vampire standards), the dining hall feels exactly like what it professes to be: a den of vampires. Nooks, crannies, furniture, and abundant decor create the illusion of a much larger space, a feeling enhanced by excursions upstairs and out back.

We cannot imagine a more appropriate place to dine with the undead, unless perhaps it were in Castle Dracula itself. For Los Angeles residents, however, The Count's Den serves very well.

In short, The Count's Den could operate as a restaurant-bar, a la The Cauldron, and it would provide more than enough uncanny atmosphere to satisfy Halloween fans. The theatrical dining experience of Bite is proverbial A-positive icing on the bloody cake.

Bite Halloween Theatre Review: Theatrical Experience
Count's Den Bite Review Halloween Theatre
Don't let the creepy uncle get you alone.

The Count's Den stages theatrical events outside the Halloween season, but Bite is a stand-alone story, unrelated those productions. Initially, Bite feels more like an immersive experience than a play. As you become acquainted with the vampire clan, you interact and listen to chit-chat. The characters expound on their personal interests: the vampire daughter is into science; the vampire son is into pop culture; the vampire uncle is into anyone he can corner alone, his every syllable a whispered seduction, directed equally at either gender.

Gradually, a story emerges, in bits and pieces, from the different conversations, focusing on why the Count is secluded - perhaps secured -in his room. Edmond, the servant, who speaks awkwardly because of his missing tongue, reveals that the Count was bitten while saving him from a werewolf. The Count's daughter later reveals the horrifying consequences of a werewolf bite on a vampire; she thinks - hopes? - her father is strong enough to survive, but the angry, raving snarls emanating from behind his locked door do not bode well for his state of mind, which is compared to that of a rabid dog.

But, in spite of these things, it is a gay and magnificent revel, even if the vampires seem a bit strained in their efforts to appear happy and dauntless and sagacious. In particular, Meggy, a bubble-headed blonde human, whose fannish enthusiams for vampires grows annoying over the course of the evening, is a major source of inspiration, eventually being shunted upstairs as...what exactly? A repast for the Count?

Unfortunately, this is where Bite's version of Chekhov's Gun misfires. If you don't want to know what happens - or doesn't happen - skip the next section.

Bite Halloween Theatre Review: Spoilers
What happens to the Count's wife, last heard calling to her husband?

Meggy disrupts the dinner party when she reappears naked and bleeding from the neck. The vampires try to distract their guests by having Edmond reprise a song-and-dance routing from earlier in the evening, but the attempt fails when the Count finally makes his appearance, striding into the room with the awesome, pervasive malevolence of The Red Death intruding upon Prince Prospero's masquerade.

And then...

The vampires shout warnings of danger and herd their guests out of the dining hall, then cast a spell to protect them from being pursued home.

What?

As you're being forced to leave, you can hear the Count's wife calling in alarm to her husband, but the door is closed before you see what happens. The entire evening has built up to this climactic moment, but an actual resolution is denied to the audience. After all the hint's that the Count, in his current state, is a danger to both the living and the undead, one expects the blood-drinkers to perish, the tables having turned them from vampires into victims of their ravenous Lord and Master.

But no. Instead, the audience is whisked away and told to leave. It's as if Poe had ended "Masque of the Red Death" before the revelers dropped one by one "in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall." It is, in a word, anticlimactic.

Bite Halloween Theatre Review: Food & Beverage

Well, that's one way to get rid of dinner guests, but what of dinner itself.

The Count's Den serves food from GaiGan Thai. Being vegetarian, we cannot speak to the quality of the carnivores' meals, but we were frankly disappointed with the vegan option. The ingredients were fresh and well-prepared, but flavor was lacking. Vegetables were firm, not overcooked, and the veggie spring rolls had an appetizing, minty aroma; unfortunately, neither tasted particularly good. The noodles were decent, but almost any Thai take-out place could have provided a better meal.

If the food was disappointing, at least the beverages were good. The open bar served its own seasonal creepy cocktail, which got the evening off to a great start.

Bite Halloween Theatre Review: Conclusion

Dining with Vampires! What could be more amazing? What more could we want? Not to put too fine a point on it: better food and a better ending.

It almost hurts to write those words because so much of Bite is great: the atmosphere, the setting, the gradual accumulation of information leading to the conclusion. Most of all, the cast of characters deserve praise; their performances truly make the evening worthwhile.

Unfortunately, a great setup raises great expectations, and those expectations are not met by Bite, perhaps the first play to fall victim to Chekov's Vampire.

The Count's Den: Bite Rating
  • Environment
  • Theatrical Experience
  • Food & Beverage
3.7

Bottom Line

Let’s try to explain our ratings for Bite: The Count’s Den is a beautiful location, providing atmosphere that yielded a memorably immersive experience, so it gets a perfect score. The theatrical experience is strong for most of its running time, particularly thanks to the actors; it would have earned at least a four if it had not faltered at the ending. The vegan meal was disappointing (a two at best), but we’ll give the benefit of the doubt regarding meat options available to others, and the drinks were very good, so we five this category a three.

Bite has had its run extended with additional performances on November 7, 17, 16, 23, & 30, starting at 7pm and 9:30pm nightly. The address is 1039 S. Olive Street. Los Angeles, CA 90015. Audience size is limited. Admission is $75 for the 90-minute theatrical experience, including a catered dinner (by GaiGan Thai) and an open bar (beer, wine, cocktails). All offerings are gluten, dairy and peanut free, with select vegan fare. Get more information here: thecountsden.com.

Bite Halloween Theatre Review: Photo Gallery

 

 

Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.