'Dracula' Prowls Between the Living and the Dead

"Dracula"

Adapted by Weylin Symes from the book by Bram Stoker; directed by Greg Smucker; scenic design by Susan Zeeman Rogers; costume design by Rachel Padula-Shufelt; lighting design by Karen Perlow; sound design by Ben Emerson; dramaturgy by Pangea Farm

Cast in alphabetical order:

Dracula, Diego Aciniegas

Seward, Owen Doyle

Lucy, Angie Jepson

Mina, Joy Lamberton

Van Helsing, Richard McElvain

Jonathan, Nathaniel McIntyre

Performances: Now through November 6

Box Office: 781-279-2200 or www.stonehamtheatre.org

Perhaps it's because "Dracula" has become so much a part of our pop culture that this monstrous symbol of dark power can now only be seen as a cartoon of itself. Perhaps it's because there have been so many interpretations of Bram Stoker's gothic novel of the violent unleashing of Victorian social and sexual repression that no new adaptation can be truly original.

Or, perhaps it's just that artistic director Weylin Symes' latest stage version of the havoc wrecked by the vampire Count from Transylvania simply doesn't have enough teeth to make a strong impression. Whatever the reason, the Stoneham Theatre's current production of "Dracula" lacks the necessary bite to cure itself of its own anemia.

Forget the fact that Symes' interpretation eliminates several key characters from the source material by combining them into theatrical composites. Forget, too, that he takes a number of liberties with the plot in order to consolidate a highly complex and detailed novel into a more straightforward two-hour stage piece. To those of us who are not Dracula purists, such changes would not even be noticeable – if the end result were a tightly woven dramatic thriller that built suspense and sent shivers up and down the spine. Unfortunately, Stoneham's "Dracula" does neither.

The staging by director Greg Smucker begins promisingly enough. The initially playful and warm relationships between the couple Jonathan and Mina Harker, cousins Lucy and Mina, and fiancés Lucy and Dr. Seward establish a Hitchcockian type of anticipation by underscoring lighthearted everyday innocence with an ever so slight edge of impending doom. Count Dracula's first appearance also portends the darkness of things to come as he clings to the shadows along the walls of his castle and circles a visiting Jonathan like a wolf stalking his prey. These clever touches are quickly lost, however, as the ensuing attack scenes have Dracula bite Jonathan, Lucy and Mina without any seductive build up or passionate desperation. Diego Arciniegas' Dracula is neither a bona fide monster nor a hypnotic chameleon capable of attracting ostensibly unwilling but curious moths to his eternal flame. He is merely a pale specter whose predictably recurring evil deeds provide a reason for the obsessed Van Helsing, played on fast forward by Richard McElvain, to spout vampire lore and eagerly conduct executions.

The best performances in this "Dracula" are provided by Nathaniel McIntyre as Jonathan, Joy Lamberton as Mina, and Angie Jepson as Lucy. They have far more spiritual connection to each other than Arciniegas' Dracula has with any one of them, even after he's supposedly captured them under his spell. Owen Doyle as Dr. Seward also does fine work as the psychiatrist torn between his love for Lucy and his disgust at her transformation into one of the living dead.

As Van Helsing, McElvain initially captivates with his nervous twitches and fervent fascination at the prospect of meeting a real vampire. However, as the others put their faith in the good doctor and he gets closer to confronting his nemesis, McElvain's performance deteriorates into repetitious ramblings that are barely audible. Because of this – and the suddenness with which both Symes' script and Smucker's direction bring the story to an end – Dracula's demise is unspectacular and anticlimactic.

In this Stoneham production, one of literature's classic monsters is stripped of his power and complexities. Here he does not expose the hidden desires of Victorian men and women by tempting them to abandon civilized restraints. Neither is he portrayed as a victim of his own immortality – someone to be pitied as well as reviled. Instead, this "Dracula" is nothing more than a pale recreation of a colorful original, a skeleton without texture or substance.

This new version of "Dracula" needs more than a transfusion to get the audience's blood pumping. It needs a heart, a purpose, and a spine – and a heavy dose of adrenalin to create the necessary goose bumps.

 

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From This Author Jan Nargi

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