Vapers at the Gate from The Burying Beetles is a creative imagining of the collapse of our society, told through a decidedly political lens. We follow three people, Wayer (Mafer Del Real), Harley (Daniel Britt) and Hampshire (Kearston Johnson) as unlikely companions on the run from some sort of urban collapse (maybe from a terrorist attack, maybe something else). Along the way, these three — an African-American woman, a Hispanic Woman and an older, white, redneck man — learn about and ultimately accept each other beyond these labels and the roles society imposes on them. They eventually encounter Scud (Olaf Eide) who not so subtly represents the worst elements of the recent presidential campaign, and the travelers find their new respect for each other challenged.
While this might sound a little formulaic, it’s not. Director Dan Winters makes great use of an acting ensemble — Gabriela Medina, John Ray, Zoe Cotzias and Aiden Dalton — to create depth and atmosphere for the action, with a fascinating variety of environmental sounds and effects from random objects (a roll of wrapping paper stood out) and suddenly we are swept along on their journey.
Del Real is especially fine as a narrator and old movie fan (using a flashlight under her chin to highlight herself), as are Britt and Johnson, both of whom maintain the stereotyped elements of their characters while still advancing the story. The show’s title comes in part from the fact that everyone was using e-cigarettes, although the importance of that as a device was a little blurred.
Even though there is a lot of humor in the show, I found myself wondering if it was a little out of balance with what is ultimately a very serious theme. I also found myself wanting more of the environmental background effects from the ensemble, fantastic for the first 10-15 minutes but gradually used less and less.
Regardless, the acting throughout was excellent and the clever script kept me engaged. Despite trying a bit too hard to make a political statement, it’s a statement that — in my opinion at least — needs to be made, over and over and in as many ways as possible. It’s well worth seeing.