In the Ruth & Bucky Stein Studio Theatre, located on the second floor of Thalian Hall, Big Dawg Productions has staged a timely production of the vampire romance Let the Right One In by playwright Jack Thorne. Although I was previously unaware of the 2004 Young Adult novel or the 2008 film — both of the same name — I was instantly drawn in to the eerie world presented onstage.

The bleak woodland set (designed by Terry Collins and painted by Donna Troy) greeted the audience as we walked into the small black box theater. The lighting (designed by Cole Marquis) instantly set the mood for the cold, snowy heart of winter. The crowd eagerly found their seats and soaked up the atmosphere. This show marks Big Dawg’s third production of the 2021 season, but it still feels very exciting to be back in a theater!

Steve Vernon, the artistic director of Big Dawg Productions, welcomed everyone to the show and made the standard preshow announcements, but he kept them lively and engaged the audience, warming us up for the evening ahead. When he exited the stage, the lights dimmed and the scored accompaniment began. With that, the show was about to begin!

The first act of the play introduces us to the two main characters: Oskar (Cooper Herrett) is a shy, bullied middle-schooler who connects with Eli (Grace Carlyle Berry), the strange new kid at school with a dark secret. The two navigate their budding teenage romance (portrayed with great stage presence by actors with palpable chemistry) while simultaneously learning violent truths about each other, and themselves.

Eli, a 200-year-old vampire, lives with an older man she calls “Dad” (Cole Marquis), who kills local townspeople to supply Eli with their necessary diet of blood. In the opening scene, he attacks an unsuspecting victim, and we get a glimpse of what we’re in for! Although the play is based on a YA novel, it’s filled with the exciting action and the gruesome attacks you would expect from any good vampire story.

As the town police get more and more suspicious about the recent slew of mysterious killings, we learn about Oskar’s harsh home life. He lives with his exhausted, caring, single mother, played wonderfully by Paula Davis. After the lights dimmed on her first scene with Oskar, I could hear the man next to me whisper softly, that was good!

The performances in this show were all fantastic: Nickolaus Steingerwald and Kevin Williams as the two school bullies who pick on Oskar balanced teenage cruelty with stupidity, giving us just enough humor to cope with their atrocities. Chad Hsu as the school fitness teacher seemed to truly bond with the troubled Oskar, even though he may not be the most protective of him. Eli’s double (Sofia Perez) heightened the show’s action with her acrobatics, which made Eli seem even more supernatural.

While the play is dark and scary, it also has real heart and warmth. Director Jason Aycock has balanced the show’s tone with grace, providing all the human moments we yearn for, while giving us the action and blood that we crave. The special effects are tasteful but exciting; they allow for each victim to “bleed out” right there on the stage! It’s the perfect show to satisfy your Halloween needs.

The technical aspects of the show are something of a marvel. There are an abundance of scene changes, which are quite a feat to perform in this minimalist black box space! Each scene change moved swiftly, thanks to stage manager Aurora Flores and some intelligently designed set pieces. Every technical element seemed to be carried out with a great deal of thought. At intermission, Hall and Oats’ “Maneater” played over the speakers in a self-aware nod to Eli’s carnivorous habit. Let the Right One In isn’t just an evening of great theatre, it’s an evening of pure entertainment and spectacle.

As this holiday season continues, Big Dawg Productions will be putting on a December run of the play “Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and then Some). This play features three actors who, rather than perform a run-of-the-mill version of Dickens, decide to tell – you guessed it – every Christmas story ever told. If that show promises to be anything like Let the Right One In, I’m sure it will be magnificent.

Let the Right One In continues through Sunday, October 31. It contains strong adult language and strobe lights. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.