There's a murderer in town.
An older man, Hakan, is quietly gassing and killing people in the area. Once he takes their lives, he drains them of their blood. Hakan (Richard Snee) will do anything to keep Eli alive. But Eli's constant need for blood and Hakan's murderous mishaps keep them on the run. Soon, the two end up in Blackeberg, a suburb of Stockholm, Sweden, to rent an apartment and start anew.
In Blackeberg, an unlikely friendship forms between a bullied boy, Oskar, and Eli that changes both of their lives forever.
This budding camaraderie is at the core of Jack Thorne's "Let the Right One In," produced by Actors' Shakespeare Project in collaboration with the Boston University School of Theatre. The production runs through Nov. 6 at BU’s Joan and Edgar Booth Theatre. The story comes from the internationally best-selling novel of the same name by John Ajvide Lindqvist that was turned into two films (a Swedish and an American version) and adapted for the stage by Thorne. The production is directed by Christopher V. Edwards, ASP’s artistic director and several BU students help round out the cast and crew.
The play, like the film takes the time to establish that there's something sinister happening in town and why Oskar (Mishka Yarovoy) is in dire need of Eli's (Leah Hohauser) friendship. This stage version, though, gets off to a slower start despite a strong, athletic performance by Hohauser, one of the BU actors.
The Booth Theatre is an ample open space with a thrust stage, where seating surrounds the ground floor stage on three sides. There's no set to speak of, but tall silverish pipes or cylinders soar from the ground to the ceiling and a metal playground structure rests in the background.
The cast continuously rolls in props, furniture, and other set design elements throughout the show to move the action from the school to the courtyard at Oskar and Eli's apartment complex to a candy store and more.
Yarovoy who starred in SpeakEasy Stage Company’s "The Inheritance," is a lovely Oskar. With his gentle speech, Yarovoy seems to physically fold inward when surrounded by school bullies who taunt him, call him piggy and prod him to squeal. His meekness alone might be the reason he's teased, and he's often cornered by two or more hooligans who love to give him a hard time. But the uber-upbeat physical education teacher, Mr. Avila portrayed by the talented Dennis Trainor, Jr., who also starred in "The Inheritance,” is kind to Oskar.
Their otherness brings Oskar and Eli closer together despite Eli's initial declaration that they can't be friends. Oskar is friendless and Eli, a vampire, doesn't go to school, can't come out in the sun and smells like decay when hungry for blood. Over time, the two grow closer. In the book and film, Oskar is 12 years old, and Eli is physically 12 years old but has been alive for a very long time.
Most of the action takes place in Act II (except for a cool scene where Eli climbs a tall pole), a welcome change from the sluggish beginning. There's a bit of gore, blood, and an overall sense of real movement through the narrative. There's also a pool scene where Oskar nearly drowns that was handled quite nicely.
However, the show doesn't elicit fear or demonstrate the callousness of murder. There's mention of the killings on the TV news, but the actual killings by Hakan seem to happen in slow motion, quietly.
TV and film vampire stories never cease to draw viewers, especially during October, but it's interesting to see horror approached onstage. This story in particular, is having a bit of a resurgence with the (very good so far) "Let the Right One In" series on Showtime and the continued availability of the two film versions on Hulu.
The play, like the book and the movies, seems like a testament to young love. But will that love cost Oskar more than he realizes? Will there be an inescapable price to pay in the years to come?
"Let the Right One In" runs through Nov. 6 at the Joan and Edgar Booth Theatre at Boston University. The production is a collaboration between the Actors' Shakespeare Project and the Boston University School of Theatre.