'Dracula' has been bled dry Theater review: Here and there is a spark of life, but Olney's "The Passion of Dracula" has lost its bite.

October 24, 1995|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

He may have had a stake driven through his heart by everyone from Abbott and Costello to Buffy, but Dracula is one stubborn blood sucker who refuses to die.

It does seem, however, that after innumerable movie and stage versions, the poor fellow is beginning to suffer from tired blood. Despite a large, stunning physical production, Olney Theatre Center's long-winded "The Passion of Dracula" could stand a dose of Geritol.

This particular version is by Bob Hall and David Richmond, and as the title suggests, it emphasizes the romance and sensuality of the Bram Stoker horror story. These are big emotions that need to be played that way. But under Jim Petosa's direction, most of the folks at Olney seem, well, ordinary.

As Dr. Seward, who runs the sanitarium where the action takes place, Alan Wade is as colorless as an anonymous doc at an HMO. Similarly, John Wylie may cut a distinguished figure as rare-disease specialist, Professor Van Helsing, but he never fully conveys the bristling intellect that everyone -- Dracula included -- admires in him.

Now there could be method to this laid-back approach, if these common mortals were seen as foils for a gloriously stylish Dracula. But though he moves with considerable grace, John Silvers -- familiar to local audiences from his major roles with the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival -- isn't an especially magnetic Count.

Instead, most of the passion stems from Dracula's chief victim, here called Wilhelmina, given the production's most, ahem, full-blooded performance by Carol Monda. (One of the loveliest touches in this slightly more feminist rendition is that Wilhelmina isn't merely a victim, but the eventual heroine as well.)

Most of the show's style is found in James Kronzer's elaborate set design and Daniel McLean Wagner's cloud-strewn lighting. Seward's hospital/home is a huge stone, two-level mausoleum-looking structure, which Kronzer equips with several surprises. The best -- and least-used -- is a "Poltergeist"-style effect in which Dracula's image nearly presses through a suddenly elastic stone wall. I won't give away the final and largest effect, except to say it's also a rather hackneyed one -- you can currently see versions of it in "An Inspector Calls" at the Mechanic Theatre and "Don Juan" at Center Stage.

Besides Monda's Wilhelmina, there are a few other adept performances, particularly that of James Whalen as Wilhelmina's human love interest, Harker, who in this version is a reporter; and David Moynihan as haunted, crazed Renfield, Dracula's eager protege. In contrast, as an over-sexed Austrian psychologist, Deb G. Girdler strains too hard to inject comic relief.

"Dracula" is -- pardon the expression -- so long in the tooth by now, the show needs something fresh to liven it up. Perhaps that certain something will show up in yet two more Dracula movies -- Wes Craven's "Vampire in Brooklyn," starring Eddie Murphy, and Mel Brooks' "Dracula, Dead and Loving It," starring Leslie Nielsen, both due out in the next few weeks.

But Olney's account of the batty Transylvanian count is a little too dead on.

'The Passion of Dracula'

Where: Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Route 108, Olney

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. Sundays; with matinees at 2:30 p.m. Sundays and selected Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Nov. 2. Through Nov. 19 Tickets: $23-$28

Call: (301) 924-3400

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