“Vampirella” and “The Company of Wolves,” Angela Carter’s radio-play takes on “Sleeping Beauty” and “Little Red Riding Hood,” are a little different from the versions you grew up with. Cannibalism, vampires, werewolves, and blood — lots of blood — figure prominently. Presented by Imaginary Beasts under the umbrella title “Hairy Tales,” as part of the company’s “Once Upon a Time . . . ” season at the Boston Center for the Arts, they posit that the beast in us all is anything but imaginary.
The Girl in “The Company of Wolves” (1980) meets a handsome Huntsman in the woods, and he bets her a kiss that he can make it to Granny’s house before she does. When she arrives, Granny’s gone and the Huntsman is licking his chops. The Countess in “Vampirella” (1976) lives in the Carpathians, and she believes, in the words of her father the Count, that “one fine day, a young virgin will ride up to the castle door and restore her to humanity with a kiss from his pure pale lips.” Could her Hero be the middle-class Englishman whose bicycling holiday in the mountains brings him to her castle? Or will he wind up as just another tasty treat? In the end, sex is the salvation of both the Hero and the Girl, though one embraces it and the other abstains.
At the BCA’s Plaza Black Box, the floor for “The Company of Wolves” is painted, or perhaps chalked, in swashes of brown, gray, and white that suggest tree trunks — or wolf fur. The back wall comprises four panels of horizontal wooden slats, in front of which is a long table and props: baskets, a chair, a stool, a red napkin, a gun, a hatchet, a feathered hat. The backdrop for “Vampirella” is a white sheet draped over the wooden wall with holes, through which the Count appears. The table doubles as a bed and at times is upended; a magic lantern projects images and information on the sheet. One of director Matthew Woods’s better inspirations is the hula hoop that serves as the Hero’s bicycle.
I had some reservations about what Imaginary Beasts calls its “signature physical style” as applied to these plays. The company overenunciates and overacts, as if the audience were made up of children. The physical style here is very broad and not very sophisticated, whether it’s Michael Underhill’s Huntsman making exaggerated bows to Erin Butcher’s Red Riding Hood, or the portrayals, by various company members, of a grandfather clock. Foreign accents are inconsistent. And it’s puzzling to see the Countess played simultaneously by Amy Meyer, in a white muslin dress with pink stains, and Poornima Kirby, in a hoop-skirt frame, the two actresses alternating the Countess’s lines or repeating them.
Butcher starts out as a very girlish Red Riding Hood but grows up quickly when she finds herself alone with a werewolf. I also liked Meyer’s trance-like Countess. And if Underhill’s stiff-upper-lip Hero borders on parody, that seems to be what Carter intended. This “Hairy Tales” can raise the hair on the back of your neck. But maybe less would be more.
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at email@example.com.