Script injects new blood into 'Dracula'

July 02, 1993|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Theater Critic

In Charles Nolte's adaptation of "Dracula" at Totem Pole Playhouse, ominous music accompanies the title character; tinkly romantic chords accompany Mina, his intended victim; a patently fake bat flies across the stage on a pulley and string; and there's an amusing smattering of corny lines. ( Asked whether a specialist can help Mina, her father replies: "I'd stake -- my life on it.")

Nolte's script, which is receiving its East Coast premiere, is part comedy, part romance, part melodrama and, of course, part horror story. Totem Pole last produced a version of Bram Stoker's classic thriller in 1978, and it turned out to be not only one of the most popular shows in the summer theater's history, but also one of the most requested, according to Baltimorean Carl Schurr, the theater's producing artistic director.

But instead of merely disinterring the same old script, Schurr went for something a little different this time around. And, besides the touches mentioned above, there are other entertaining changes. Nolte's protagonist, for example, is not merely the same old charming bloodsucker, he's also an accomplished hypnotist, a clairvoyant and something of a magician -- he can make himself appear and disappear, as well as such other neat tricks as spontaneously lighting a cigarette.

In other words, this guy would be a scream at a party, if it weren't for his peculiar choice of beverage. However, in Totem Pole's production, which is directed by Richert Easley, Tom Spackman's Dracula would be more of a scream if he took the role more seriously.

Camp is a difficult tone to achieve, and Easley's direction hovers just at the edge of it. Spackman, however, goes a bit over the edge, emphasizing the camp element instead of concentrating on the combination of sexual allure and terror that gives the character such creepy resonance.

At the same time, it is a credit to the sincerity of Sarah McCord Williams' performance as Mina that we never doubt her love-hate attraction to Dracula. She's hilarious alternating between sweetness and evil when her soul struggles to free itself from the vampire's grasp.

Other noteworthy performances include those of Catherine Blaine as a brandy-guzzling battle-ax nurse, Jack Rowles as Mina's bland-but-believable fiance, and especially Curtis Armstrong as wild-eyed Renfield, a mental patient who thinks he can prolong his life by eating live insects. (Another choice line comes after Renfield devours a fly; "an hour later you're hungry again," he complains.)

Like many summer theaters, Totem Pole offers a season that includes comedy, mystery and music. In this latest "Dracula," the theater has found a show that incorporates a little of each.

The humorous musical underscoring, by the way, is by Terrence Sherman, and the detailed set is by James Fouchard. There's also a scary surprise ending, which it wouldn't be fair to give away. Overall, however, this "Dracula" is more of a hoot than a holler -- unless, of course, you're lucky enough to see it in a thunderstorm. In that case, it just might drive you batty.


Where: Totem Pole Playhouse, 9555 Golf Course Road, Caledonia State Park, Fayetteville, Pa., 14 miles west of Gettysburg

When: Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8:30 p.m.; matinees Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Through July 18

Tickets: $11-$17

Call: (717) 352-2164

** 1/2

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.