Long before vampire mythology was reduced to twee Hollywood allegories about tween sexual angst, 19th-century Gothic writers like Bram Stoker and Sheridan Le Fanu employed it to explore the psychological no-man's-land between their era's forbidden carnal desires and British society's tyrannical puritan repression.
Carmilla, David MacDowell Blue's alluring if restrained one-hour stage adaptation of Le Fanu's 1872 Sapphic bodice-ripper - itself the Victorian equivalent of girl-on-girl softcore porn - is the attempt of an avowed vampire traditionalist to recover some of the genre's lost mystery and enticingly subtle eros for a new generation.
The playwright's most provocative conceit is advancing the action to 1938 Austria (courtesy of costumer Katie Jorgenson), just after the Anschluss but before the outbreak of war, and emblematically underscores for whom one should be rooting by making Carmilla's vampire-hunting antagonist (Douglas Eames) a Nazi apparatchik.
As the insatiable vampiress, a seductively anemic-looking Vanessa Cate convincingly makes the leap from wounded vulnerability to savage feline ferocity. Lara Lihiya is equally persuasive as Carmilla's obliviously naive love and thirst interest.
If MacDowell Blue and co-director Mark Hein's conservative production is shy on stage fireworks or the Grand Guignol splatter typical of producer Zombie Joe's Underground, anybody weaned on Hammer Films' early-'70s Karnstein Trilogy of sapphic vampire films should find the results as irresistible as a siren's song.
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Zombie Joe's Underground, 4850 Lankershim Blvd., N. Hlywd.; through March 15. (818) 202-4120, zombiejoes.com.
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