What's in a name? Drake will tell you

`Son of Drakula' is a search for self

Theater Review

May 21, 2002|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

David Drake is coming out of the closet. Not about his homosexuality. He's been open about that for years and dealt with it frankly onstage in his acclaimed 1992 one-man show, The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me.

No, this time he's coming clean about his surname - his legal surname, Drakula. Receiving its world premiere at the Theatre Project, Drake's latest one-man show, Son of Drakula, is about the Obie Award-winning former Marylander's efforts to trace his ancestry back to that other Dracula, a k a Vlad the Impaler.

Thematically, however, Son of Drakula is about more than genealogy. It's about the search for identity and even more, for acceptance and love.

These are solid, universal themes, and together with Drake's strong stage presence and the detective story that makes up much of the plot, they bode well for the future of this show, which already has engagements lined up off-Broadway and in Alaska.

But at this early point in its development, Son of Drakula needs editing and focus. Including intermission, the opening night performance ran 2 hours, 45 minutes, during which Drake made many points several times over.

The fine-tuning can begin in the opening section, in which the actor struggles to convince a recalcitrant airline attendant that, though all the rest of his ID bears the name "Drake," he is the same person listed on his passport as "Drakula." The scene is a good way to introduce both the theme of identity and Drake's journey to the World Dracula Congress in Romania. But it goes on much longer than necessary.

Further tightening would sharpen Drake's depiction of the Congress itself, where papers are delivered on such subjects as "Bitten by the Byte: Vampires on the Net" and "The Forensics of Impalement." As these titles suggest, there's a great deal of humor in this section.

The comedy is enhanced by Drake's portrayals of the people he meets at the Congress - from the diminutive host, a man whose name sounds like "Knee-High," and whom Drake portrays on his knees, to actress Ingrid Pitt, who starred as a vampire lesbian in a 1970 British horror film called The Vampire Lovers. (Interestingly, nowhere in the show does Drake mention that one of his own early stage successes was in the long-running off-Broadway hit, Vampire Lesbians of Sodom.)

Amusing as all this may be, Drake doesn't learn enough from his participation in the Congress to warrant the overly generous amount of stage time he and director Chuck Brown have allotted it.

The action moves even more slowly after intermission when Drake travels to Croatia to visit a distant relative he has discovered on the Internet. Interspersed among scenes of Drake's trip to Eastern Europe are flashbacks to his childhood in Pennsylvania and Maryland as well as various present-day e-mail exchanges with his father, who has retained the name Drakula (pronounced "Dra-COO-la").

His voice lower, his body language tougher and his gruff affection for his son unmistakable, Drake's father is the show's most fully developed character (besides Drake himself). Indeed, because his relationship with his parents is so crucial, these scenes could stand more emphasis and weight. Drake may travel to Eastern Europe to find himself, but his journey of self-discovery ends much closer to home, with a strengthened bond with his father.

The performer/playwright includes several references to Walt Whitman's "A Song of Myself" in Son of Drakula. In some ways even more than The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me, this new show is a song of himself and his immediate forebears. Though there's still work to be done, it's a song whose melody should resonate.

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