Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cincinnati

Let the Right One In
University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music / Cincinnati Shakespeare Company
Review by Rick Pender | Season Schedule

The Cast
Photo by Mark Lyons
The University of Cincinnats College-Conservatory not only turns out professional-caliber performers and artists: It is also a training ground where aspiring theatre designers and technicians gain top-quality experience. That's being showcased with the present production of Let the Right One In, a horror story that's mashed up with an adolescent romance. The play's script is drawn from a 2004 Swedish novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist (he also wrote the screenplay for a 2008 film). Adding depth to the production is a collaboration with Cincinnati Shakespeare Company: The show has been staged by Brian Isaac Phillips, Cincy Shakes' artistic director, and augmented by four professional actors working side-by-side with the student cast.

A tale like this calls for a lot of technical wizardry and special effects, and that's where this production excels. The snowy Swedish countryside where violent murders are being unearthed is handled with constantly spinning snowflake projections (Andrew Gange is lighting and media designer) and tall birch tree trunks (white, that actually fly up when not needed). It's a chilly, foreboding place. Cold concrete buildings at stage left and right with illuminated windows reinforce the cold environment; the permanent, etched cement walls of Patricia Corbett Theater feel like a logical extension of that atmosphere. Brief scene changes–a candy shop, a school locker room, a bedroom–slide on and off the stage via tracked pallets. Of course, this being a horror story, there are multiple gory blood effects. In all these ways, this is a perfect show for the days ahead of Halloween.

The central characters in Let the Right One In are Oskar and Eli, played by CCM Acting seniors Nathan Flesh and Lyd Noll. In Lindquist's tale they are meant to be 12-year-old adolescents. Flesh looks more like a college senior (he's the tallest actor in the cast), although he puts forth the necessary anxiety, hesitation, and lack of self-confidence of a younger kid. Noll (who uses they/them pronouns) has a more complex challenge: Eli, we learn, is actually a vampirish two centuries old once named Elias but trapped in a young adolescent holding pattern, somewhere between male and female. Strong, confident, and voraciously hungering for flesh and blood, Eli is also lonesome and yearning for human companionship–to be "let in," as the play's title suggests. As Eli and Oskar communicate using Morse code, he becomes Eli's obsession.

The collaboration with professional actors gives some generational reality to the story's adult roles. Barry Mulholland plays Hakan, Eli's devoted but twisted keeper. Geoffrey Barnes is Halmberg, an officious law enforcement officer investigating the mutilation murders who becomes a victim himself. Kelly Mengelkoch is Oskar's inconsistent and frequently abusive mother. Billy Chace has three roles: a quirky candy shop owner, an oblivious school coach, and a brief scene as Oskar's distant father. Only Mulholland's role has much complexity; the others are tend to be one-dimensional.

The cast is rounded out with a handful of students, including Bryce Nevison as Johnny and Brandon Cook as Jimmy, a pair of bullies who mercilessly torture Oskar until Eli violently defends him. Although Phillips' production has been seriously staged, the audience–largely consisting of fellow UC students–found much to giggle at during the performance I attended, reactions that undermined the story's need for taut suspense.

The pacing of the production also needed to be tighter. A few slow scene transitions, perhaps necessitated by quick offstage costume changes or makeup preparations, let some of the steam out. At 2+ hours, Let the Right One In is played with an intermission that also reduces the building tension. A number of combat and blood effects play key moments in the story, including a confrontation between Oskar and Johnny that ends with a dramatic spray of blood, the pressure of which seems to indicate a carotid artery injury. It's a letdown when we learn that a laceration of Johnny's ear was the actual injury.

The show has impressive underscoring and spooky sound design by composer Patrick Kiernan, a second-year MFA grad student. Let the Right One In relies upon an army of students training to be stage managers, dressers, backstage technicians, and support staff. The show is surely an in-depth experience for many of them. For the actors, working with professionals from Cincy Shakes is surely another outstanding dimension of their training. It's great to see UC drawing on the resources of Cincinnati's noteworthy professional theatre scene.

Let the Right One In, presented by University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music in partnership with Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, runs through October 28, 2023, at at UC's Patricia Corbett Theater, 290 CCM Blvd, Cincinnati OH. For tickets and information, please visit or call 513-556-4183.