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Blood and Poses

The Spotlighters Host a Debonair Dracula

Ron Gregory and Bob Bardoff in the Spotlighters' Dracula

By Mike Giuliano | Posted 10/13/1999

Dracula (by Bram Stoker)

Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston

The Spotlighters' basement-level theater already has a dark and claustrophobic feel, so it doesn't take too much set dressing to make this subterranean space a suitable home for Dracula's coffin. Making this theater even spookier, its stage and walls have been painted with a spider-web design appropriate for either Dracula or Kiss of the Spider Woman.

But even with these scary trappings, it's difficult to make Dracula any more frightening than a Halloween costume. Although the original Bram Stoker novel and its best screen and stage adaptations retain their supernatural, psychological, and sexual power, the story is so overly familiar that it's a real challenge to pump new blood into such old veins.

This production adopts a middle-of-the-road stance that mostly avoids either dramatic rethinking or campy excess. Of the various theatrical versions available, the company uses an adaptation by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston that distills the basic plot if little of the nuance of the novel.

This tersely structured, literal-minded Dracula is helmed by co-directors Ron Gregory and Melainie Eifert with confidence, if insufficient verve. Their only creative tweaking of the material occurs at the production's beginning, when they stage a masked, pantomimed prelude involving the full cast. This doesn't work, though, because it's so totally unrelated to the performance style of the rest of the evening.

With no real surprises or insights, is this Dracula worth an evening or does it merely bite? Even more important than the hauntingly effective, atmospheric setting is the strong performance of the lead role. Co-director Gregory fits very convincingly into Dracula's black cape, giving us a vampire who is by turns debonair and menacing—it's easy to understand why Dracula is such a successful lady-killer. Resisting the temptation to indulge in melodramatic flourishes, Gregory astutely underplays and thereby seems more frightening than if he vamped as the vampire.

Still, Gregory's performance would benefit from a tad more erotic charge when Dracula sinks his teeth into the fair-skinned beauty Lucy Seward (Melissa Meyd). This actress possesses the gentle manner that makes her an affecting Lucy. There also are some tender scenes between Lucy and her paramour, Jonathan Harker (David Parker).

Although the central performances have enough flesh-and-blood appeal, a couple of the supporting roles are anemically played. Lucy's father, Dr. Seward (Ted Burke), and the vampire-investigating Dr. Van Helsing (Bob Bardoff), never come alive. Bardoff in particular struggles to remember his lines, making Van Helsing seem a rather insecure opponent for Dracula. If these two actors sharpen their performances by the end of the run on Halloween, this Dracula might become something to shout about.

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