Michael Von Seibenburg Melts Through the Floorboards proves as interesting as its title [Humana Festival]
The immediacy of playwriting gives it the ability to comment quickly on the surrounding culture. Indeed, the Humana Festival is all about shining a spotlight on new voices and, presumably, their reaction to our changing world. In the new play, Michael Von Seibenburg Melts Through the Floorboards, playwright Greg Kotis tells a vampire story unlike all the others that dominate the pop culture landscape. Whether a reaction to those other franchises or not, Kotis turns the modern romantic version of vampirism into a grizzly need for cannibalism to extend life indefinitely. In a play that focuses on the gruesome murder, the continuing threat of being caught, and the history that lives on with the immortal, Michael Von Siebenburg Melts Through the Floorboards offers a substantive, often very funny, exploration on whether a soul can be redeemed, even after five hundred years of sins.
The story itself revolves around the routine that Michael Von Siebenburg and his cohort, Sammy, have perfected over their many years. Sammy finds and hypnotizes women into agreeing to meet Von Seibenburg. Then Von Seibenburg whines, dines, and drugs the women, ultimately killing and processing their bodies for consumption. This cycle stutters when Dickensian ghosts begin to visit Von Seibenburg, forcing him to question his life, and pull him towards different futures. His long dead wife Maria appears and pleads with him to stop eating the innocent. His dead fellow crusader Otto comes to him and wants to renew the fight for Istanbul. Meanwhile, Sammy despairs over Von Seibenburg's lack of initiative and grows hungrier.
This play succeeds because of its dedication to context. Saying a character is five hundred years old does nothing unless you give weight to the time that has passed. The inclusion of so much history shows more of the characters than dialogue ever could. The old world views that carried on, the stories that were told, the crusader trying to restart the fight for the holy land; these points deepened the characters and brought perspectives to the viewing that made the narrative more layered. To my mind, it even contained some message of gender equality. Modern women prove so much more difficult to lure into their trap. And I can't imagine it is an accident that characters of authority are played by women. It is an interesting view of culture shifts and the adaptation that immortality demands.
Though the main themes lay heavy, the play also contained quite a bit of playful humor. Self-referential dialogue and tricks of light and sound raised the atmosphere often. While I definitely found most of the jokes hit, I wondered how well the more absurdist jokes folded in with the greater existential questions. That said, I found the concept of a dead group of crusaders working in concert to take back contemporary Istanbul from the hated Turks simply delightful.
The production ran beautifully slick and professional. Detailed thought was given to every aspect of the staging and the one set bent easily around different settings. Director Kip Fagan used sound and light to magnificent effect, transporting the audience between timelines and dreamscapes. Rufus Collins who played the title role, acted an inspired arc from suave playboy to broken man. Micah Stock as Sammy and John Ahlin as Otto delivered snappy, memorable roles that played expertly for full effect.
Michael Von Seibenburg Melts Through the Floorboards highlights the continued importance of drama in modern life. Its enjoyable commentary on our changing times and desperation for longevity feels freshly recognizable. It is a play that strives to embrace and learn from its past, giving both a wonderful production and a lesson on the toll our desires take on our humanity.
The play will run through April 1st, with daily showings. Tickets can be purchased at actorstheatre.org or by calling their Box Office at 502-584-1205.
Image: Courtesy Actors Theatre
Photos: Couresy Alan Simons