Review: ‘Let the Right One In’ at Maryland Ensemble Theatre

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Sweet innocence with a mature danger underneath – that is Let the Right One In at Maryland Ensemble Theatre (MET) in a phrase. If you are a fan of the horror and vampire genres, you have likely heard of the Swedish film (and novel) by the same title, or the American adaption called Let Me In. This stage adaptation by Jack Thorne, directed by Julie Herber, accomplishes the same cinematic drama and complex story with the intimacy of live theatre. This feat was made possible by the efforts of the production team and cast who came together to put the ensemble in Maryland Ensemble Theatre. Add the atmosphere, free coffee, and friendly people that always accompany MET shows, and you have a quality evening out.

Jordan Champe (Oskar) and Karli Cole (Eli) in Let The Right One In, now playing at Maryland Ensemble Theatre. Photo by David Spence/Spence Photography.
Jordan Champe (Oskar) and Karli Cole (Eli) in Let The Right One In, now playing at Maryland Ensemble Theatre. Photo by David Spence/Spence Photography.

Without giving too much away, Let the Right One In is a story of youthful friendship complicated, and somehow strengthened, by secrets and murder. When the strange young girl Eli moves in next door to the weak, bullied Oskar, a friendship starts to blossom which begins to bring the best out of both of them. This play touches on gender, sexuality, and human nature in light, but affecting ways throughout the story, which adds some lingering thought to an entertaining play. Let the Right One In is truly entertaining. Herber keeps the play from being merely dark and brooding by allowing the comedic and sweet moments to come through.

Transitions were a major feature of the show. Cecelia Lee designed a very effective set that communicated the feel of the setting rather than the specifics from room to room, and had moveable boxes and set dressing to convey different locations. This made transitioning from one set up to another an important part of the story. Herber involved the whole cast in these transitions, and made them stylized and deliberate, which kept them quick and helped the production move along at a good pace.

While actors performing transitions is pretty standard in theatre these days, Herber chose moments for the actors to acknowledge the action on stage during the set and scene transitions, which set these apart. I appreciated this special attention to keeping the audience involved in the story, versus watching what boxes would go where. Cast members also acted as proper delivery persons during scenes, putting a jacket on Oskar while he was speaking, handing Mum her wine glass. Again, this helped the play move along by removing any unnecessary air that could have been there.

The entire design team creates the feel of the play from the moment you enter the theatre. Lee’s set is striking, cold, resembling a meat locker, and its translucent panes reminded me of snow-frosted windows. The eerie preshow music chosen by sound designer Tom Majarov echoed the set and created an ominous mood. The coldness I was reading from the set was confirmed when the play began and all the actors entered in coats and furry hats. Stephanie Hyder’s costume design wasted no time in revealing a scene somewhere in the dead of winter, late 20th century. Hyder didn’t clutter up the action with too many costume changes, only enough to delineate different characters played by the same actor, and to show the passage of time.

As the show progressed, Majarov’s sound design and Carey Rausch’s lighting design became critical in filling in the details that the set could not. Likely the best example of both of these aspects was the pool scene where the bullies are harassing Oskar. Rausch’s lighting showed the wavy, cool colors of a pool room, while Majarov added the sound. Visually, a frosted pane that Oskar moved behind, making it look like he was in water, cleverly communicated the pool scene. Whether this was Lee or prop master Bailey Sterling’s contribution, the effect was perfect.

Brandon Richards (Johnny) and Sean Byrne (Micke) harass Jordan Champe (Oskar) in Let The Right One In, now playing at Maryland Ensemble Theatre. Photo by David Spence/Spence Photography.
Brandon Richards (Johnny) and Sean Byrne (Micke) harass Jordan Champe (Oskar) in Let The Right One In, now playing at Maryland Ensemble Theatre. Photo by David Spence/Spence Photography.

Of course, a play like Let the Right One In would not have been complete without a little gore and disfigurement. Doug Grove and Katie Rattigan executed the special effects. I appreciated that they only included these effects where absolutely needed.

The whole ensemble worked well together to express honest, natural characters dealing with real and natural problems, in a play with a strong supernatural element. Jordan Champe (Oskar) and Karli Cole (Eli) had a familiar, easy chemistry that was endearing to watch. Champe showed many lovely emotional colors from the shame of public bullying to the elation of a first love. Cole embodied Eli from her first step on the stage. Everything in her body and voice told you that though she looked like a young girl, there was definitely something off about her, if not inhuman.

Robert Leembrugen was terrifically committed as Hakan, Eli’s “dad.” Leembrugen had some difficult tasks such as killing, being sick, and dying, which he handled most convincingly. The Most Parts Played award goes to MET company member JD Sivert who played Kurt, Jocke, Nils, Stefan, and Dad. Sivert’s characters each had their own qualities, whether stance or vocal quality, that clearly set them apart. Jack Evans did an excellent job distinguishing his roles as the encouraging teacher Mr. Avila, and the concerned and furious Halmburg. Evans noticeably used an accent to set these two apart, and was very consistent with it. Brandon Richards and Sean Byrne were uncomfortably great as Johnny and Micke, Oskar’s bullies.

Maryland Ensemble Theatre’s Let the Right One In is the perfect Halloween season activity. Bring lots of friends and enjoy a creepy night out!

Running Time: One hour and 55 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

Let the Right One In plays through November 11th, 2018, at Maryland Ensemble Theatre – 31 West Patrick Street, Frederick, MD. Purchase tickets at the box office, order by phone at 301-694-4744, or go online.

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