Cuddles at TheatreWorks 

Cuddles, which opens this week at TheatreWorks, is a different kind of vampire story. The two-woman drama can be unsettling and hard to talk about without giving away the things that set it apart in a genre done to (un)death. Even director Tony Isbell keeps a pretty tight lip, referencing a quote by the show's original British producer. It's "part horror film, part domestic tragedy, part romantic comedy," Isbell says. "And it's very disturbing."

Classic English understatement.

Cuddles is an exercise in creeping, gut-strangling dread. It tells the story of two sisters — one human, one vampire. They have a strict system of rules created to keep both of them alive and together — tenuously in every sense. These rules are repeated like a catechism, lest anybody forget or backslide, and if Eve, the younger sister and vampire, breaks them, she's tied to the squalid bed in her squalid attic until the lesson's learned. Eve's also taught to avoid the company of humans who may kill her with sunlight, decapitation, or a stake through the heart. The latter two, the young monster notes in a moment of gallows humor, probably work on just about anybody.

click to enlarge Disturbing, cuddly vampires
  • Disturbing, cuddly vampires

"The thing about the rules in this show is they are there to protect Eve from the outside world, to keep her safe," Isbell elaborates. "And both sisters follow the rules. Until they don't. And then things start to go awry." Although he's never actually seen, a man enters the picture, and the sisters' relationship begins to change in unexpected and potentially catastrophic ways.

Cuddles is an ironically cute name for this troubling revisionist bloodsucker, which, over the course of 90 creepy/funny minutes, creates a whole new mythos for vampires. It stars New Moon heavy hitter Tracie Hansom (Bug, Orpheus Descending) as Tabby, the older sister, and University of Memphis student Hayley Hellums as Eve.

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