Abraham Van Helsing insists all men are madmen. This theory might help explain why, as hard as he works to kill Count Dracula — garlic, crucifixes, the nasty business of turning the Nosferatu torso into a Transylvanian shish kabob — theater artists work even harder, October after October, to bring the vampire back to life. It’s an insane exercise.
Bram Stoker’s epistolary 1897 novel resists dramatization almost as strenuously as the undead might resist a dunking in holy water. However high the adapters’ intentions, Dracula on stage or film almost always stumbles into an open grave of sleaze and camp.
Yet here we are again, this time on Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's downtown stage. A remote estate in Eastern Europe. An asylum in London. The late Victorian era, with all its attending sexual politics, spiritual superstition and shaky medical practices.
Will Van Helsing and his callow deputies decipher the lunatic Renfield’s clues before it’s too late? Of course not. Will there be blood? Let’s just say, if you’re seated in the first few rows, wear something dark and machine-washable.
Credit a smart, well-paced script by Steven Dietz and a capable Cincinnati Shakespeare crew for a seasonal exhumation of Dracula that’s less painful and ridiculous than most. In fact, a sold-out opening-night crowd lapped it up, so perhaps CSC Artistic Director Brian Isaac Phillips is crazy like a fox.
The thrill of predation certainly fuels this production, beginning with Giles Davies’ hungrily elegant turn in the title role. But, strangely, Davies’ aged, weakened Count seems more threatening than Dracula at the height of his powers, after the vampire has fed on the restorative flesh of a couple of virgins. Technically, too, the show has lethal moments but nagging weaknesses (overly bright lighting, timid sound cues, a shameful shortage of stage fog).
Dracula glories in his pathology. This stage version succeeds best by following his mad example.
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