We will always have horror films, as long as people will squeal and cling to the arms of their dates. Horror theater — not to be confused with horrible theater, which will also persist (sigh) — should have an even easier time spooking us, since a jump cut is no match for a drooling monster actually jumping out at us.
Dracula, adapted from the Bram Stoker novel by Geoffrey Hitch, is another matter. Directed by Richard Ericson and Joseph Robinson at the Courthouse Center for the Arts (through October 31), the production does everything right and yet the play doesn't prompt the spine-tingling that Stoker could elicit from his readers.
The West Kingston troupe does a fine job, every role well-acted, and nary a slip with the British accents. Mood enhancement is on the money, with lighting by Michael Clark Wonson and occasional thunderous soundtrack music by Béla Bartók.
Trouble is, the story takes itself seriously, as we who are not readers of 1897 gothic novels cannot.
Rocky Horror Picture Show, yes; melodrama, no. Sorry, but by the time we're grown-ups these days, we've been conditioned for irony. Kids might follow this tale wide-eyed and entranced, but a suspension of disbelief is too much to ask for the rest of us. Yet the satisfactions of a good yarn well told are still in store.
The adaptation conveys the story briskly, with no intermission and enough stops and slowdowns for characterizations, as the directors stay attentive to effective pacing.
As soon as Jonathan Harker, Esq. (Jordan Wolfe) visits the Transylvania castle of Count Dracula (Stephan Goldbach) on legal business, warning signs commence. Make sure no one knows you're here, the Count insists; the ground all around has been soaked with the blood of countless invading armies, the Count observes. Two seductive vampirettes almost get their teeth into the oblivious guest, but the Count drives them away. Held captive, Harker soon escapes with his life, though not with all of his bodily fluids.
While Harker is recuperating in a Hungarian convent, the Count is transported to England in the coffin in which he must remain each day until the sun sets. He locates Harker's fiancé, Mina Murray (Rebecca Dale), and also gets to know her friend Lucy Westenra (Laine Wagner), to the eventual dismal fate of the latter. Lucy's suitors (reduced from Stoker's three to two) are Dr. John Seward (Joseph Robinson), who runs a mental hospital, and Arthur Holmwood (Jed van Dale), whom she chooses.
But before Lucy can achieve connubial bliss, she enjoys some of another sort: a bite on the neck by Dracula, which in this showing appears to be a very sexual experience, just as such intimacy sublimated sex for the 19th-century audience. Although she dies and is buried, the region is soon terrorized by a mysterious woman in white prowling at night to suck the life out of children.
A particularly imaginative character is that of Renfield (Carl Josephs), a madman who consumes creatures, from flies to small animals, to vitalize himself with their life force. Saving the day is Dr. Abraham Van Helsing (Keith Jochim), a vampire expert and the first to use the V word as well as do something about them, as in tracking them down and driving stakes through their hearts. Filling out the cast is Melanie Kane, as a peasant and a nurse.