KPBS AIRDATE: April 2, 1997
MUSIC, under: “Dracula”
We do everything we can. We lock our gates, our doors and our windows. We close our books, our eyes, our minds and our hearts. But no matter what we do, invariably, inevitably, insistently, Dracula keeps coming back. They don’t call him ‘the undead’ for nothing. And what better time for him to make a reappearance than the 100th anniversary of his creation by English writer Bram Stoker?
So there he is, up on the stage of the Old Globe, no less. Steven Dietz’s adaptation stays close to the source, which mainly comprises journal entries, diaries and letters from the various characters. This epistolary format is not always supremely theatrical. So, to be sure we are completely sucked in, director Mark Rucker and company do everything in their power to scare the living daylights out of us. There’s a live rat onstage, and later, a more fake one has the juice squeezed out of it, into a waiting human mouth. Caskets fly open; blood spurts repeatedly. The lighting is dark, eerie and frequently tinged with red. There’s a blood-red curtain, and a huge cage upended center stage. And underscoring it all, raising your hackles and your blood pressure, is Michael Roth’s sound and music design, a mass of ominous cellos and slamming doors, flapping bat-wings and howling wolves.
The first act frankly terrified me, but things went downhill from there. You know the fear-factor isn’t working when the audience starts to laugh at the bogus attempts to instill terror. The second act dénouement was anti-climactic. Even the cast was a disappointment. The vampiric count, as played by Reg Rogers, is far from Frank Langella’s irresistible roué. This guy is more Svengali than Lothario, and that makes him a lot less appealing, and seriously downplays the sensuality of the blood-lust.
As Lucy and Mina, the ingenues who come under his sway, Julie Fain Lawrence and Nina Landey are delightfully giggly, conspiratorial schoolgirls. But their young male counterparts, Seward and Harker, are woodenly played and totally uninteresting. Richard Easton, as always, holds his own, as the stake-driving vampire-hunter, Dr. Van Helsing, but he’s out of his element here. This whole production seems like much ado about too little; the techno-wizardry outstrips the story — and I thought that only happened in musicals.
Next door, in the Cassius Carter, some of the problems are the same. No real reason to adapt a tale that does better in the book than on the boards. Giles Havergal’s reworking of Graham Greene’s “Travels with my Aunt,” is being billed as “a not always politically correct divertissement.” That sounds like an apologia for a novel written in 1968, with its light, comic touch and its moralizing undertones, turned into a play in 1989, where some 20-odd characters, male and female, are portrayed by four men dressed, `a la Magritte, as identical, bland British bankers. It seems, well, dated, a very prissy, mannered, English sort of thing, that has nonetheless been a hit on several continents. But here, it gets very tiresome very quickly, despite the versatility of at least two of the actors — William Roesch and Jefrey Alan Chandler. Havergal wisely stuck closely to Greene’s clever writing, but that means there’s much more telling than doing onstage.
When the technique upstages the action, theater misses its mark.
I’m Pat Launer, KPBS radio.
©1997 Patté Productions Inc.