“Earl the Vampire” is an unpretentious yet messy little comedy by playwright Sean Michael Welch whose meaning won’t be lost on anyone who has ever struggled to gain acceptance. Essentially an allegory for every disenfranchised social class and social movement of the last few hundred years, it’s the tale of a group of vampire roommates fighting for their rights in present-day America and proving that just like you and me they come in different shapes, sizes and temperaments. Unfortunately, its crude assemblage of dialogue, character and action—alternating between the preposterously puerile to the enjoyably outrageous—is not helped by Thunder and Lightning Ensemble and director Chris Arnold’s erratically acted production, making for a chuckle-worthy but rarely gut-busting experience. “Don’t judge us, America, we’re more than just a pain in the neck,” says one character as the audience groans, loudly. That’s only the first in a succession of cheesy verbal one-liners (“Count Chocula” is a recurring insult for one of the vampires), visual puns (a vampire sports a suit, tie and haircut just like “The Twilight Zone’s” Rod Serling) and other disconcerting oddities (a mentally handicapped vampire would seem to have come straight out of a Farrelly Brothers’ movie). This might have made for campy comedy a la “Rocky Horror” but the majority of the acting just misses the mark, offering performances that are either too farcical and over-the-top or not intense enough. Stocky D.B. Schroeder, as a vampire wanting to “come out of the coffin,” doesn’t know how to control his nervous energy: if he did, he could have the bumbling comic appeal of a young Albert Brooks. The appealing Cynthia Shur could use a little more energy to prevent her sweetly understated performance from becoming monotonous, and Andrew Carl could certainly take it down a notch or two in the tiny Side Studio. Maybe then they could nail their characters as well as actor Casey Chapman (Earl the Vampire) has his: along with his Goth sheik looks and “fangs in cheek” delivery of his lines, his crisp flick of his campy cape is the sharpest thing in the show. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
The Side Studio, 1520 W. Jarvis Avenue, (773)332-9939. Thu-Sun 7:30pm (no show Feb 4). $15. Through Feb 11.