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A CurtainUp Review

So, Professor, you have come from the land of the tulip, to cure the nervous prostration of this charming girl. I wish you all the success. — Dracula to Van Helsing

Michel Altieri as Dracula.
(Photo: Carol Rosegg )
Let's skip all the smart-alecky, condescending put-downs that one might think are the only way to respond to yet another production of Dracula. On second thought, let's not skip them. After all, there is nothing in the world of the living, or for that matter the world of the undead, that is going to make intelligent people think that the countless adaptations and derivations are anything but pure hokum.

That so many spine-tingling stage and screen versions have, however, been derived from the source — Bram Stoker's influential and eternally chilling Victorian era novel (1897) — certainly attests to our continuing fascination with the greatest vampire of all, and his powers of seduction and evil. Putting aside all the Freudian, religious, political and social overtones that the various versions and interpretations have either chosen to examine or ignore over the past one hundred and fourteen years, it seems as if someone out there decided that it was time for another peek into the coffin. This latest, but unfortunately poorly-acted and seriously misdirected resurrection of the play manages to make victims of those in the audience as well as those consigned to the stage.

If there was nothing particularly laudable about the dramatic adaptation by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston, it served its purpose in the original 1927 production with Bela Lugosi in the title role and, even more impressively, in the hugely successful 1977 revival with Frank Langella. This beauty and the bat story has an appeal that has also given rise to a number of musical versions including Dance of the Vampires (2002), Dracula, The Musical, (2004) and Lestat. (2006).

Audiences venturing into the Little Shubert Theatre have a right to expect a gasp here and a chuckle there, but not the stultifying, bloodless (both literally and figuratively) experience that is being offered. The script famously provides three opportunities for blood to spurt, but this is evidently not what director Paul Alexander wanted. One would hope that Alexander, who authored and successfully directed two of his own plays — Strangers in the Land of Canaan (1996) and Edge (2003) Off Broadway — might have approached this Gothic classic with the panache it deserves.

Most grievously, he has apparently chosen to ignore the mounting sexual attraction and tension between Count Dracula (Michel Altieri) and the young and mysteriously ailing Lucy (Emily Bridges) who unwittingly comes under his thrall. Either that or Altieri and Bridges are simply not capable of communicating this dramatic illusion.

Altieri, who is making his American debut, flaps about the stage making all kinds of faces none of which seem to go with the words that come out of his mouth. At least the long black hair that casually flops down the side of his face and his dialect are close to unworldly. Bridges lists her major credit as being the co-author of a new stage adaptation of Richard Boleslavsky's Acting: The First Six Lessons. Far be it from me to suggest that taking a peek at the seventh lesson might have helped her performance.

Set in England in 1914, the overall look of the show is nicely evoked by Dana Kenn's three gracefully revolved settings within the home of Dr. Seward (Timothy Jerome) and by the effective dark-and-stormy-night lighting by Brian Nason. Broadway veterans George Hearn (who plays Dracula's nemesis Van Helsing), and Timothy Jerome represent the senior and most stage worthy advocates of the genre. John Buffalo Mailer is the agile furniture-hopping spider and fly-eating Renfield and as such has a fine time demonstrating how one can legitimately go batty in a situation like this. The play's best special effect has Mailer creeping upside down the outer stone wall of the house like Spiderman. . . dare I say it, without a mishap.

An approximation of sanity has much to do with Jake Silbermann's performance as Lucy's fiancée. Katharine Luckinbill as Miss Wells, the maid and a Rob O'Hare as Butterworth, the sanatorium guard, robustly define the amateurishly conveyed creepiness of this production.

Dracula By Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston based on the novel by Bram Stoker Directed by Paul Alexander
Cast: Jake Silbermann (Jonathan Harker), Katharine Luckinbill (Miss Wells, Woman in White), Timothy Jerome (Dr. Seward), George Hearn (Abraham Van Helsing), John Buffalo Mailer (Renfield), Rob O'Hare (Butterworth), Emily Bridges (Lucy Seward), Michael Altieri (Count Dracula)
Scenic Design: Dana Kenn
Costume Design: Willa Kim
Lighting Design: Brian Nason
Sound Design: Chris DelVecchio
Running Time: 2 hours including one intermission
Little Shubert Theatre, 422 West 42nd Street
(212) 239 - 6200
Performances: Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7 PM; Friday at 8 PM; Saturdays at 2:30 PM and 8 PM; Sundays at 2:30 PM and 7 PM.
Previews began 12/14/10
Opened 01/05/11
Ends 03/13/11
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 01/02/11
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