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'Cuddles' Brings Horror to Brits Off Broadway

A sinister tale of vampires and other predators takes over 59E59.

Photo by Alex Beckett

To anyone who believes that theater cannot do true horror the way that film can, 59E59 would like to invite you to Cuddles, a play, by Joseph Wilde and directed by Rebecca Atkinson-Lord, about a little girl vampire and the stories she tells herself while locked up in a small bedroom in her sister's house, her only nourishment the blood willingly provided by her keeper. And yet, what this two-woman play depicts is a distinctly feminized horror, its most chilling elements--childhood sexual abuse, forced abortion, literally draining oneself dry caring for a child--more relatable for most audiences than freewheeling chainsaws and buckets of blood.

Pale, emaciated teenager Eve has never left the bedroom she grew up in, terrified of the sun, other people and what the real world is like. Her older sister Tabby, a confident, cynical businesswoman, goes to work each day and then returns home to care for the child, providing games, stories, elaborate rules and rituals and even her own blood. But Tabby's life begins to change when she meets a charming young suitor who simply won't leave her alone, and she dares to begin dreaming about the life she could have if she weren't stuck caring for Eve for the rest of her life. So where does that leave our young vampire?

In such an intimate and emotionally intense piece, the heart of the play is its acting, and that is one of Cuddles' strongest elements. Carla Langley (Eve) and Rendah Heywood (Tabby) excel in their portrayal of two complex but undeniably evil sisters and their toxic, codependent relationship. Everything falls apart once the women starting having aspirations for relationships beyond each other, and that tension is painful to watch.

With an unchanging set of a little girl's bedroom covered in shredded paper, we are always in Eve's world, even as we watch Tabby go about in the real world talking to such shadow presences as "the Mr. Wallace," the dark monster from Tabby's childhood. Just like Eve, we are never truly free from the fantasy world Tabby has created for her out of children's books and fairy tales, and as the play makes clear by the end, no one is ever able to escape the fairy tales they tell themselves.

At its core, Cuddles is a profoundly alienating story, at times cold, disgusting or just simply hopeless. Summoning up emotions theater audiences may not be accustomed to experiencing in such a venue, it is certainly an acquired taste. But for its unflinching, graphic depiction of two young women fighting against the demons within their own family, Cuddles deserves a round of applause.

Cuddles plays at 59E59 through June 28.

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