Halloween 2013 is in the rearview mirror, but two shows keep the spooky shenanigans going.
"Blacula: Young, Black and Undead"
I haven't seen the 1972 blaxploitation classic that shares a title with Reginald Edmund's new horror-comedy for Pegasus Players, but I suspect that doesn't matter. Edmund's "Blacula: Young, Black and Undead," despite some defiantly shaggy edges in the storytelling, offers enough sly sociological commentary to stand on its own in postmillennial (but not post-racial) America.
In some respects, it resembles 2004's zombie comedy "Shaun of the Dead," only instead of an aimless British office-supply store clerk who has to come into his own battling the brain-eaters, the hero-in-spite-of-himself in Edmund's piece, Franklin (Charles Gardner), is a "professional prankster." His girlfriend, Nicollet (Kyra Morris), is moving up the corporate ladder, while his career is stuck in neutral. If you're wondering what a professional prankster does, you're not alone. One pronounced drawback in the story is that Franklin and his libidinous sidekick, Colfax (Antoine Pierre Whitfield, embodying id at nearly every turn) never really show off their prankster chops. Which is a lost opportunity in a story about fighting an undead African vampire named Mufasa. (Take that, Disney!)
What both Edmund's script and Ilesa Duncan's spirited direction get right is the focus on the plight of young black men who themselves feel unmoored in their own time and place by economic uncertainty and shifting definitions of manhood. Morris' Nicollet (or "darling Nikki," as one of the many Prince shoutouts in this Minneapolis-based story puts it), upon breaking up with her impecunious swain, tells Franklin, "Here's the deal. It's you. Not me." Frustrated by the glass ceiling and the oft-reported difficulties that successful black women have in finding male romantic partners, Nikki is easy prey for tall, dark and undead Mufasa (Johnathan Wallace), who adds insult to injury by taking over a Twin Cities fried chicken franchise and promising Nikki the job of CEO if she will consent to be his eternal bride.
There is a touch of "Scooby-Doo" here, especially once Franklin and Colfax team up with the female descendant of Van Helsing (Kitten McCreery) and her boyfriend, Calhoun (Mike Cherry), and invade the decrepit old hotel where Mufasa and his vampire harem hold court. Edmund has an omnivorous appetite for pop cultural references that keeps the laughs on a constant low boil, though they sometimes get in the way of narrative clarity. But given that a recent report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed the unemployment rate for black youth is about five times greater than the national average , Edmund's story of a bright but underemployed young black man seeking unconventional means of sustenance is timely for reasons other than Halloween.
Through Dec. 1, Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago Ave.; $25 at 866-811-4111 or pegasusplayers.org
Eclipse Theatre Company concludes its all-Alan Ayckbourn season with 1994's "Haunting Julia." Just as "Blacula" is less about the vampire than the fears of those who hunt him, Ayckbourn's trip to the paranormal is about the guilt and regrets of those left in the corporeal realm.
Julia Lukin, known as "Miss Mozart" when she was a living musical prodigy, committed suicide a dozen years earlier. Her bedroom has been preserved by her recently widowed father, Joe (Norm Woodel), as part of the Julia Lukin Centre for Performing Studies. He summons Julia's old boyfriend, Andy (JP Pierson), and Ken (Ted Hoerl), who claims to be psychic, in order to find out what really happened the night she died.
Kevin Hagan's direction and clever set deliver the chills when needed, but too much of this play involves static arguments between the three men about the nature of faith, genius and mental instability, none of which reveal anything more profound than that suicide also kills the spirits of the living. Woodel's performance, in particular, seems hesitant when he should be baring his teeth and showing the hard-edged man who lived his life for his daughter — and may have had more to do with her death than he cares to admit.
Through Dec. 8, Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave.; $28 at 773-935-6875 or eclipsetheatre.comCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun