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Young love blooms among carnage in Berkeley Rep’s compelling ‘Let the Right One In’

Oskar is a lonely 12-year-old boy, viciously bullied at school every day of his life. His father leaves, his mother drinks and the teachers look the other way. He feels as isolated by them as he does wandering through the desolate forest of birch trees surrounding his town. It’s there that bodies are found, strung from branches like sides of beef, in “Let the Right One In.”

Framed by Christine Jones’ macabre scenic design, these slayings intrigue Oskar (a magnetic Diego Lucano) almost as much as his new neighbor Eli (a beguiling Noah Lamanna), a lithe beauty who makes him shiver in more ways than one. Based on the exquisite 2008 Swedish movie of the same name, this hauntingly lovely National Theatre of Scotland production eschews cheap scares, instead tapping into a deep vein of existential dread in its West Coast premiere at Berkeley Rep.

On its surface a coming-of-age story in the horror genre, closer to “Buffy” than “Twilight,” it’s also an unsettling meditation on our most elemental fears, from mortality to alienation. Longtime collaborators director John Tiffany and choreographer Steven Hoggett, who also mesmerized with “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” and “Black Watch,” have a genius for capturing the primal impulse. If Hoggett’s balletic movement and the terse dialogue (adapted for the stage by Jack Thorne) sometimes feel at odds, there’s an elegant restraint to the gore.

Despite its pageant of eviscerations and disfigurements (grisly special effects by Jeremy Chernick), the play unfolds sweetly, like an elegy to lost innocence. If vampires have always been a metaphor for real world evils, Eli emerges as something of a savior, rescuing Oskar from his thuggish tormentors in a climactic act of blood-soaked vengeance.

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The scene would have even more visceral impact if Jon Demegillo, Michael Johnston and Jack DiFalco generated more menace as the boys who oh-so casually humiliate Oskar in endless acts of cruelty. Their ritual savagery needs more edge to raise the stakes. Still, one of the most moving moments is when you realize you are emphatically rooting for the monster to triumph over the humans.

Julius Thomas III (best known for “Hamilton”), however, is believably dense as the naive gym teacher, watching for years as Oskar cringes in the shadows, hiding in his locker to escape his tormentors, but never realizing the danger.

Eli may look fragile, a pale waif, but Lamanna imbues the ambiguous character with a feral intensity that makes you flinch, but not look away. There’s something so radiantly alive about Ely, beaming with childlike glee even while prowling through the gloom.

In a universe where the adults shuffle about like zombies, dead to the pain in their midst, Eli throbs with tenderness, even joy. The bond between Oskar and Ely radiates with light and heat.

No wonder Oskar wants to lose himself under that thrall, as do we.

Contact Karen D’Souza at


By Jack Thorne, based on the novel/screenplay by John Ajvide Lindqvist, a National Theatre of Scotland production presented by Berkeley Repertory Theatre

Through: June 25

Where: Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theatre, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley

Running time: Two hours, 20 minutes, one intermission

Tickets: $43-$119; 510-647-2949,

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