CHILDREN OF THE NIGHTBy George Morris and Joel Frapart
Prost Stage Productions
Directed by Lindsey Humphries
Stage Manager - KJ James
Set/Lighting Designer - Luis Salazar Prop Designer - George Morris Costume Designer - Juli Stalter
Grimlocke - Byron Holder
Helena - Samantha Johnson
Madeline - Samantha Calatozzo Cobb
Lilith - Cheyenne Haynes
Sebastian (young)/Brahm - Salvador Elias
William/Basil/Jeffrey - Jake Lawrence Geary
Sebastian (old)/Tarheel 2 - Ken Pursell
Innkeeper/Gerald/Tarheel 1 - Joe Porter
Patron/Bartender/Sarah/Ashley - Lindsey Nelson
Reviewed Performance: 10/22/2022
Reviewed by Charlie Bowles, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
It’s on such a night that the family Grimlocke played out its ancient story. Children of the Night on MainStage222 in downtown Irving revealed its secrets to a few hearty souls, but there’s one weekend left, so it’s critical to get your tickets soon. Your life could depend on it.
This play written by the team of George Morris and Joel Frapart is the opening production of Prost Stage Productions, a new company in DFW. With the first reading in 2018 with some of this cast and a staged indoor production at Bathhouse Cultural Center in 2019, this is its first full-stage production. With the addition of Lindsey Humphries to the Prost team, this full COTN got its director.
Children of the Night is a story as old as life. A vampire father of three blood-sucking daughters is ready to retire into his old age. He just needs his girls to find places of their own, and maybe have a small family. Unfortunately, the girls’ suitors tend to become food before they become mates. What’s a father to do? All parents can relate to that.
This 3-act play crosses the globe from a castle in Eastern Europe in the 1920s to London in the 60s and North Carolina in the 70s. This unfolded on one stage with minimal scene changes. One primary set by Set/Lighting Designer, Luis
Salazar featured a back wall of a large interior great room in an estate. It could also be a warehouse, boardwalk, dining room, and bedroom. Below the stage lip, pubs, and other locations were created with minimal tables and chairs. With a bit of light change, each of these could become the action focus. One needed to use their imagination a bit to believe the different locations, but it worked for this comedy.
Much of the scenery distinction was built on furniture and props. George Morris, co-writer was the Prop Designer. That took a bit of leg work, as there were some pretty involved furniture pieces, art on the wall, a fireplace, lots of decorator pieces, swords, and various actor props.
Children of the Night could be called a period piece. There were ornate costumes designed by Juli Stalter. Daughters had fresh high-fashion dresses for every scene, in different colors, materials, and styles according to the decade. One daughter was decidedly not high-fashion, closer to an early-American insane asylum. Father was always dressed in high style, with suits that revealed his wealth. Costume watching became a favorite part of this 60-year story.
Grimlocke is an elder vampire with centuries of experience. He’s been extraordinarily successful, unlike some of the more popular characters we’ve come to watch in the past. But even a vampire reaches an age that longs for rest, and he’s actively planning his retirement. But with daughters who must be cared for, there’s much work to do. Byron Holder has been Grimlocke since the beginning of 2018. He’s had lots of time to develop and enhance this character, working the nuances of lines, and fine-tuning his unique look and style. With the sophistication of a debonair gentleman, his deft hand-life of delicate finger movements, and the facial reactions of a frustrated father seeing his children struggle, Holder unveiled a character who can join the pantheon of vampire greats. His strong vocal range and dynamic control made him easy to hear and understand in this outdoor arena, despite a strong Slavic accent. Many of his lines were intentionally comical comments on life as Grimlocke sees it. In his performance, Grimlocke could be like any father wanting the best for his children, wanting them to have good lives when he’s gone, and willing to go the distance to make that happen.
But there was also a Fiddler on the Roof quality here. Grimlocke is of the older generation and wants to preserve his traditions. His daughters have their generations and want to break free. And that creates great, humorous family conflict. With this, Grimlocke has a chance to transform his perspectives. While there’s an aloof air in him, Holder showed that struggle through frustrations parents have coming to terms with their children’s choices.
There are three daughters, Helena, Madeline, and Lilith. It’s hard to distinguish their ages – they are centuries old – but they have their own personalities.
Helena (Samantha Johnson) seems most mature, more normal if you can use that term here. She loves her father and works to keep the estates running smoothly. Loneliness is her affliction, though there are reasons for that. Her appetite doesn’t collaborate well with potential mates. Johnson showed a kind of stability in Helena, more calming than others, and strength to her father. She’s often at odds with her sisters and Johnson let that quiet conflict prevail without becoming overpowering. But loneliness has a way of making us do things we wouldn’t normally do. Helena makes some potential mate choices that don’t turn out well, for her or the family. But they’re great for the audience.
Madeline (Samantha Calatozzo Cobb) seems to be the firebrand of the family. Hotheaded? Ready to fight to protect her family? Madeline is openly sultry, though it’s hard to know if that’s for mating or pleasure. Finding a mate for her has a black widow quality – the mate’s future is always in doubt. Madeline is a fighter, good with a sword, so Cobb got to play several sword fights with potential enemies, even a suitor or two. There was no fight director listed, though Cobb’s bio indicated some practice at this. Her fights were quick and effective, and she was able to put her full body and character into her fights, something often missing in more technical fighters. She showed a stage fighter is first an actor.
Lilith (Cheyenne Haynes), well, the name should trigger a hint. The name itself conjures images of wild women, even demons. Said to be the expelled first wife of Adam, a Wiki quote from the Kabballah version of the Torah calls her, "a hot fiery female who first cohabited with man." Add vampire to that mix and we have an indescribable character who looked uncontrollably wild and acted like Tolkien’s Gollum in Hobbit and LOTR, although she called it a gremlin. Haynes’ portrayal of Lilith was a stand-out performance, full of stage energy, and fun to watch. Each childlike scene commanded the full attention of the audience. Each appearance looked different, with vastly different stage business, and completely committed to her chaotic performances. She could be both shocking and funny at the same time, with extraordinarily little dialog. In the end, surprise! But see it to learn about it. No revelations here.
Three actors played multiple roles across the 60-year story. Salvador Elias played Sebastian in the ’20s, Act 1, and Brahm in Acts 2 and 3. Sebastian and Brahm are both vampire hunters. Or at least so it seems. Elias first played a youthful Sebastian who met the family in a traumatic experience. Then he returned as Brahm, apprentice to the senior vampire hunter. Each of these characters was dedicated to a passion for killing vampires. By the end, Brahm reveals some transformation in his own perspective and Elias changed his tone to show something new to Grimlocke.
Old Sebastian (Ken Pursell) arrives in Act 2, having aged from Act 1. This was when real vampire harassment began. Sebastian in Act 2 is now jaded from his earlier trauma and laser-focused on killing Grimlocke. Like Captain Ahab searching for the White Whale, he pursues that dream. Sebastian is the primary evil in this story, at least from the family’s perspective. Pursell exudes that quality based on Sebastian’s intense hate for Grimlocke. In Act 3, with Sebastian gone, Pursell changes his Slavic accent to a North Carolina crab fisherman. It’s a nice change in physical and character style by Pursell. That small part identifies something mysterious about life on the Eastern shore.
Jake Lawrence Geary played three important characters, William, Basil, and Jeffrey. In the 20s, William is a real estate investor from London helping Grimlocke arrange to house for his daughters. He’s attracted to and by Helena, but it’s unclear how long he’ll last in this relationship. Geary plays Basil in Act 2. In a dirty 1960s London, Basil is an itinerant musician trying to work in a pub, where he’s again seduced by Helena. That turns into a sword fight with Brahm and a strange encounter with Lilith. During the ’70s, he’s Jeffrey in North Carolina, a new mysterious character who seems to have a new agenda, and again meets Helena. There’s a dinner party at the Scuppernong House and surprising developments that push the family to extreme measures. In all these appearances, Geary changed his demeanor, his look, and character choices, even accents. He switched from a proper Englishman to a young street minstrel, then to a North Carolina plantation owner.
Finally, two actors also played a myriad of small, but important, filler roles.
Joe Porter played a Slavic innkeeper in Act 1, Gerald the pub patron in Act 2, and a North Carolina crab fisherman in Act 3. In all, he shifted his accents and personalities. Lindsey Nelson did the same with her pub patron, bartender, Sarah, and Ashley characters, one an important part in the final scene at the Scuppernong House. She created a variety of choices with different objectives, showing a talent for switching characters quickly. While this raft of parts seemed small, the text gave them important tasks critical to telling this story. Both took on their characters with interesting choices and performances.
There’s something else about the night air in October. In downtown Irving between two noisy roads through town, with planes from two airports overhead, a train station across the parking lot, and police and fire sirens throughout the night, the outdoor air presented a significant challenge to vocal projection and sound effects. The opening pre-show sound was barely heard. It seemed as if it was trying to set an ominous atmosphere. A crucial recorded exposition track could not be understood, though the muffled sound was heard. At times, some actors were hard to hear or understood in this large open-air space when speaking upstage. But most actors projected well enough most of the time. Finally, the middle act could be tightened. It slowed a bit and those rapid-fire responses that were so funny in Acts 1 and 3 slowed down.
Children of the Night is a fun addition to the normal Halloween fare that plays in October. The text is witty and funny. It’s light entertainment with a larger theme. Family and fatherhood can be complicated, but even vampire families want love over evil. Maybe we’re all more alike than we think.
COTN plays one more weekend, but if you have to miss it, I suspect you’ll see it again. I hope so. It’s a good show.
Prost Stage Productions / MainStage222
Downtown Irving Space, 222 East Irving Blvd, Irving, TX. 750060
Plays through October 29
Thursday - Saturdays at 7 pm, General Admission tickets are $20 (+online fees). Students and Seniors are $17 at the door.
To purchase tickets, visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/children-of-the-night-tickets-390524849337
For information about the production, visit https://mainstageirving.com/children-of-the-night
For information about Prost Stage Productions, visit https://proststageproduction.com