For the final production of its 2018-19 season, ever since it was first announced, anticipation has built for Stray Cat Theatre’s stage adaptation of John Ajvide Lindqvist’s vampire novel Let the Right One In, a title inspired by the 1992 Morrissey song Let the Right One Slip In. More than the book, most are presumably aware of the story through the excellent 2008 Swedish-language film, and to a degree through the 2010 American remake that shortened the title to simply Let Me In. That anticipation comes from wondering how can a live presentation recreate something that seemed so exclusively cinematic?
For the record, the film adaptation streamlined a lot of the heavy themes of the book. It centered less on alcoholism, pedophilia, genital mutilation and other topics explored with depth in the novel. Instead, it focused more on the relationship between the boy and his neighbor. Even the mysterious neighbor’s backstory that began more than 200 years earlier is left to something more ambiguous in the film. You never knew the details, but you got the idea. The play narrows events even further.
Because of the brevity of each moment, director Ron May moves his cast at a brisk pace leaving you to continually wonder what’s happening next. With solid support from all technical areas, notably Dallas Robert Nichols’ atmospheric lighting, Mary Townsend’s creative bloodletting, and Peter Bish’s sound design – when Eli’s stomach growls the sound is both funny and threatening – the play succeeds as a live presentation in ways you may never have imagined.
In its moments of silence the production is effectually creepy; remarkable considering that what you’re watching is not the reality that film recreates but the heightened reality of something that, by default of a live performance, can only remain artificial. Yet disbelief is suspended throughout. There’s even a moment of genuine shock that will surprise.
Whether it’s because of the set’s neutral tone that sits somewhere in that gray area between black and white, the snow around the base of the trees and the jungle-gym, or the theatre’s a/c unit turned down a few extra degrees, there’s a definite chill felt throughout both the play’s two acts, which is exactly what the piece requires. Stray Cat has created its own Bleak House.