Finding Beauty Within The Disturbing: “Let the Right One In” Coming to JKB
Forty-two birch trees frame a nine foot tall jungle gym where a cast of 13 will run, climb, and escape from death over the next two weeks. Each rehearsal starts with thirty minutes of dodgeball, and requires a level of physicality in order to dive in and out of the intricate set. Let the Right One In, directed by Rebecca Marzalek-Kelly, is a brutal and tender coming of age story, playing around with love and vampires.
“It is like being in a snowstorm. Sometimes it feels like a blizzard and [you] can’t really tell where to move or what to explore. That metaphorical snow is magical: you’re on top of the world, and also a tiny snowflake among the sky,” said Samantha Fleishman ‘20, who plays Eli.
The play follows Oskar, a young enough boy who finds himself bullied by two classmates. Lost in his world, he stumbles upon a mysterious, vampiric, Eli and a fierce connection takes place.
“Oskar is such a vulnerable vessel for needing attention, that it doesn’t take much to get through to him. [The play] is about misfits and how they can find comfort in each other. There’s many layers to the relationship on both sides,” explains Marzalek-Kelly. “They both need something [very different] from each other but [also] have this connection that is undeniable.”
The story comes from a Swedish film adapted for stage, which is rather unusual and allows for a wonderful level of interpretation from all sides.
“We have specifically built a set where no matter what seat you’re in, each audience member will not see the same show. We intentionally want things to be hidden or blocked or obstructed. It’s very fluid, My hope is that as long as it keeps moving, the audience will be there with us.”
Alongside Marzalek-Kelly, the cast is learning to play with the dichotomy of disturbing and beautiful within the world they create. Let the Right One In has become the beast of all involved -- actors, director, designers,
“The wonderful part about directing is that you can prepare in your mind constantly, but when you [get] people in the real moment, you can’t be in your own head anymore. Some of my initial ‘oh I have to put this here’ is going into the show and makes sense, but some of it won’t. A lot of the actors have surprised me and inspired me, so I altered my thinking about what I was initially picturing. You have to create with the resources [you have],” said Marzalek-Kelly.
In the case of Let the Right One In, the play demands a level of physicality that left actors running around a playground as part of the audition process. As a family -- cast and Marzalek-Kelly -- they have been focusing on using their movements as a way to further develop the storyline.
“I feel alive when I’m working on this show. So raw and exposed, and challenged to be all that I am. There are moments of individual wonder and there are moments that are wonderful because they’re made by many hands and collaborative minds. I am in a world of discovery at every moment,” said Fleishman.
Audience members will often watch Oskar be bullied. And while there is not much swearing in the dialogue, it is harmful enough that directing Oskar and his bullies, one taller than the actor and one shorter, to climb and react to their surroundings in a specific way strengthens the guttural reaction Marzalek-Kelly wants.
“It’s very magical and supernatural, but at the heart of the play, for me, it’s really a play about bullying and loneliness--and social isolation. The bullying language in the show feels really terrible, and with our nine foot tall jungle gym, we really play with the physicalities between Oskar and his bullies. How Oskar stumbles as he climbs versus at what ease the bullies can,” said Marzalek-Kelly.
“Let the Right One In” exhibits stillness amongst chaos in a mythological playing field. With language that is short and innocent, Oskar and Eli are moldable and vessels for interpretation.
“[The story] is a wonderful palette to get to be creative with. When we delve into it, it turns out the very simplistic lines have a lot going on and there’s actually a lot of different layers to it.”
Oskar has no outlet. In a world where his family life is not wonderful and walking outside equals meeting a bully, he finds an escape within Eli. From the moment audience members meet her, there is something off. But despite their grave differences, both characters build a connection that cannot be broken.
Let the Right One In is a supernatural reminder of the beauty of innocence and following your gut. There is beauty without the disturbing as both characters fight for a place in this world, in each other’s world.
Let the Right One In will be at the JKB Black Box Theater from October 19th to the 25th, their final show falling on Unity Day -- the National Bullying Prevention Center’s anti-bullying day. You can buy tickets here: https://theater.skidmore.edu/production/let-the-right-one-in/