Eye on Theatre: Dracula By John Simon
Hamilton Deane and John Balderston’s Dracula is pushing 90, and does not wear its age well. Except, that is, for the eponymous protagonist, Count Dracula, who after five centuries of bloodsucking looks, in this revival, no older than 25. Classics, of course, do not age, but boulevard entertainments tend, after a few decades, to creak worse than a coffin lid being pried open.
Surely everyone knows the story well enough to spare us further rehashing. A 1977 Broadway revival made the mistake of camping things up, thereby stripping them of the last remaining edge. The present mounting avoids that, which is just about the only error it does not commit. Horror stories on stage can enjoy improved technology today, but not if, like this revival, they cut corners right and left.
(l-r): Emily Bridges (as Lucy) and Michel Altieri (as Dracula) in Dracula at Little Shubert Theatre (422 West 42nd Street). Photo credit: Carol Rosegg.
The play depends greatly on its special effects, such as Dracula as a bat buzzing around frequently; but this production is batting close to zero. Only once does a winged creature butt against a translucent door, and even then it looks less like a bat than a seagull. Not even the wolflike howls outside or Dracula’s invisibility inside mirrors is properly conveyed. But there is worse.
Dana Kell’s sets seem to be mostly cardboard—and probably are—but even so cannot change noiselessly and without unseemly slowness. This despite the fact that the theater is a good one, unlikely to lack equipment. When an effect does work, like an empty chair jiggling and shaking, one is inclined to attribute it less to the supernatural than to rickettiness.
l-r: Michel Altieri (as Dracula) and George Hearn as (Van Helsing) in Dracula. Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg
Still, strong direction and acting could have made a difference, but there is not much on view. True, the leading actress was dumped four days before the opening, but one wonders what spared some of the others a similar fate. Dracula is played by Michel Altieri, a Pavarotti protégé who has performed mostly in Italy and looks far too young for the part. He scowls, leers and drawls, and even when swirling his cape, comes across not so much like a fearsome gian bat spreading its wings than as a Spanish dancer showing off his costume.
Emily Bridges (real-life namesake of the Small Fire heroine, and daughter of actor Beau Bridges) looks less the beautiful maiden in distress than an anemic schoolmarm, with blood sucked even out of her performance. Having seemingly only one all-purpose garment doesn’t help either. As Jonathan Harker, her fiancé, Jake Silverman is stiff as a board, perhaps to prop up the flimsy scenery should it collapse. As vampire-hunter D. Van Helsing, George Hearn, a distinguished musical-comedy leading man, speaks his lines as if he would prefer singing them.
John Buffalo Mailer (son of Norman), as Renfield, is a reasonably persuasive madman; as Lucy’s father and sanatorium director, Timothy Jerome comes off best. Rob O’Hare, as a sanatorium guard, has more accent trouble than most of the others, and a forelock, perhaps to emulate bats, eager to take flight. As the Sewards’ maid, Katharine Luckinbill (daughter of actors Laurence Luckinbill and Lucy Arnaz), manages tolerably. With so many famous parents’ progeny, the bored spectator can at least indulge himself as celebrity watcher.
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John Simon has written for over 50 years on theatre, film, literature, music and fine arts for the Hudson Review, New Leader, New Criterion, National Review, New York Magazine, Opera News, Weekly Standard, Broadway.com and Bloomberg News. He reviews books for the New York Times Book Review and Washington Post. He has written profiles for Vogue, Town and Country, Departures and Connoisseur and produced 17 books of collected writings. Mr. Simon holds a PhD from Harvard University in Comparative Literature and has taught at MIT, Harvard University, Bard College and Marymount Manhattan College. To learn more, visit the JohnSimon-Uncensored.com website.