Dracula Can Be Deadly

With Halloween right around the corner, it’s no surprise that vampires are making their annual appearance. Especially THE vampire, the infamous Count Dracula. Steven Deitz’ theatrical version of Bram Stoker’s classic novel opened Friday evening in a production by South Bend Civic Theater in the Wilson Mainstage Auditorium. Written in 1996, it is more akin to Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 film than to the 1931 classic that gave Bela Lugosi his cinematic  signature role. The Dietz play is reportedly more like the novel.  Having never read it, I cannot attest to this.       Enough to say that it definitely is a challenge to present and one on which the SBCT cast and crew obviously expended a great deal of time and energy. Unfortunately, the results are disappointing. The initial impact of the towering set — it stretches way above and beyond the usual restrictions of the proscenium — is encouraging. Designed by director Rick W. Ellis and technical director David Chudzynski (who also plays vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing), it contains at least six curtained openings which move the action from one location to another without having to actually change the set. Two major projection areas on the right and left walls are used to depict visually the second act journey from London to Transylvania. Their size blurs the scenes, however, and the accompanying voice-overs are equally indistinguishable. After the prologue by Renfield (Steve Gergacz), whose “entree” is a large “rat,” the opening scene between Lucy Westenra  (Sarah Obren) and her close friend Mina Murray (Kim Iwaszewski)  was, from our location right center, entirely unintelligible. Not a good thing when it sets up much of relationships as well as much of what is to come. Excepting Chudzynski, Nathanial Smith as Jonathan Harker, Gergacz and Anthony Panzica (the youthful Dracula, pictured) the majority of the dialogue was delivered in the same way. When I can’t hear and, in several scenes, can’t see what is going on, it tends to make me lose interest long before the 2 1/2 hour vampire hunt draws to its familiar conclusion. Eventually, everything takes on a comic aspect.When Van Helsing proclaims “There is no joy” and the first thing that pops into my mind is “in Mudville,” it’s obvious my focus shifted from blood-sucking, insect-eating, baby-crunching horror.Rumbling set pieces — an understandable necessity but, in scene changes, one which can be masked with music — and a seeming uncertainty as to whether to play the often unwieldy dialogue straight or kamp resulted in an unsettling  mixture and made me really miss Bela Lugosi. I wish a better reaction from local theater-goers whose demand for tickets has increased the scheduled eight show run to 10, with a midnight show Oct. 31 and an additional matinee Nov. 1.

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