On an otherwise darkened stage, a soft spotlight surrounds a young woman gently brushing her hair. Dracula, the character who has captivated audiences for nearly two centuries, enters silently from the blackness.
He stands ominously behind his intended victim, strokes her long tresses, then slowly bends to bite her. Blood appears on her neck.
"It is one of the most sensual scenes in the play," said Melea Stoltenberg, who plays Lucy, one of the count's first victims, in the Liberty High School production of "Dracula."
"Matt [Matthew Muse, who portrays Dracula] is supposed to be a charmer and make everyone fall in love with him," Miss Stoltenberg said. "I think people will be really drawn to him."
The director cautioned the cast against "over-emoting."
"Spend a little less time sucking on her neck," Mike Lyons said.
"Weird stuff" can be entertaining, he said, as long as the cast does not overstep its bounds. The plot never descends into campiness, he said.
"There is not a funny line in the whole show, even though you can only be so realistic when you are dealing with vampires," he said.
Darkness plays a major role in the drama, which pits Dracula against those who try to thwart him.
Many scenes open in total blackness and continue with only a glimmer of light. Special effects and unusual lighting add much to the sense of the macabre while the story builds.
"Nosferatu," Dracula's undead minions, barefoot and shrouded in hooded gray robes, participate in nearly every scene. Their silent presence, unseen by the actors, accents the horror. Occasionally, they whisper frantically like the wind.
"Jack, Jack, Jack," they intone, and call the next victim to his wretched end.
Mr. Muse, a senior, takes the lead with a diabolical urbanity.
"My job is to seduce everybody in the play," he said. "Dracula is evil and wants total control. If I get that down, everything else will come."
Mr. Lyons, a recent Towson State University graduate and a substitute teacher, is a director who wants "to give the audience the creeps" at least occasionally.
"I wanted a totally different line, not the standard musical or drama," he said. "Schools don't touch on horror too much."
He read five "Dracula" versions before he chose the play written by Richard Sharp.
"I love melodrama, and this is the closest we get," Mr. Lyons said.
Mr. Muse admits to one ulterior motive in seeking the part: "Girls go wild over vampires."
Clad in a tuxedo and long black cape, he is closer to the '90s vampire, who oozes charm, not blood.
"I didn't see him as a Bela Lugosi with slicked-back hair and fangs," Mr. Lyons said.
John Tucker, in the role of Renfield, helps explain the plot.
"Renfield is almost like a prophet," Mr. Tucker said. "He foretells what Dracula does."
Of course, Renfield also meets a bloody end, with a knife that oozes red dye.
Miss Stoltenberg said recent novels and films have made vampires trendy, but she has been fascinated with them since childhood. Playing a vampire on stage is not nearly as frightening as reading or watching them, she said.
"The frightening thing is that humans can make up this stuff that scares," she said.
The story ends abruptly and predictably.
"There is no denouement," Mr. Lyons said. "The drama builds until Dracula dies. Good definitely triumphs over evil, and we know it."
The show opens at 7:30 p.m. tonight. It will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday. Tickets, available at the door, are $3 for students and $4 for adults.