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Dracula - Stage Play Written By Steven Dietz

Bram Stoker's Dracula - Live (and Undead) on Stage!

By

The Play:

Steven Dietz's adaptation of Dracula was published in 1996 and is available through Dramatists Play Service.

The Many Faces of "Dracula":

It's difficult to count how many different adaptations of Dracula lurk around the theatrical realm. After all, Bram Stoker's gothic tale of the ultimate vampire lies within the public domain. The original novel was written over a century ago, and it's phenomenal success in print led to massive popularity on the stage and screen.

Any literary classic falls peril to cliche, misinterpretation, and parody. Similar to the fate of Mary Shelley's masterpiece Frankenstein, the original storyline becomes warped, the characters are unjustly altered. Most adaptations of Frankenstein never show the monster in the way Shelley created him, vengeful, afraid, confused, well-spoken, even philosophical. Fortunately, most adaptations of Dracula stick to the basic plot and keep the title character's original aptitude for malice and seduction. Steven Dietz's take on the Bram Stoker's novel is a concise, well-meaning homage to the source material.

The Opening of the Play:

The opening is strikingly different than the book (and any other adaptation I have seen). Renfield, the raving, bug-eating, wanna-be vampire, servant of the dark lord, begins the play with a prologue to the audience. He explains that most people go though life not knowing his creator. however, he knows; Renfield explains that he was created by Bram Stoker, the man who gave him immortality. "For which I shall never forgive him," Renfield adds, then bites into a rat. Thus, the play begins.

The Basic Plot:

Following the spirit of the novel, much of Dietz's play presented in a series creepy narrative, many of which are derived from letters and journal entries.

Bosom friends, Mina and Lucy share secrets about their love lives. Lucy reveals that she has not one but three offers of marriage. Mina recounts letters of her stalwart fiancé, Jonathan Harker, as he travels to Transylvania to assist a mysterious client who enjoys wearing capes.

But handsome young gentlemen are not the only ones in pursuit of Mina and Lucy. A sinister presence haunts Lucy's dreams; something is approaching. She dumps her suitor Dr. Seward with the old "let's just be friends" line. So Seward tries to cheer himself up by focusing on his career. Unfortunately, it's hard to brighten up one's day while working at an insane asylum, Seward's pet project is a madman named Renfield, who croons about his soon-to-arrive "master." Meanwhile, Lucy's nights filled with dreams mingle with bouts of sleepwalking, and guess who she encounters while somnabulating across the English coastline. That's right, Count Bites-a-Lot (I mean, Dracula.)

When Jonathan Harker finally returns home, he has nearly lost his life and his mind. Mina and vampire-hunter extraordinaire Van Helsing read his journal entries to discover that Count Dracula isn't simply an old man living in the Carpathian mountains. He is undead! And he is on his way to England! No, wait, he may already be in England! And he wants to drink your blood! (Gasp!)

If my plot summary sounds a bit cheesy, that's because it's hard not to absorb the material without sensing the heavy melodrama. Still, if we imagine what it must have been like for readers of Bram Stoker's original work back in 1897, before slasher films and Stephen King, and the (shudder) Twilight series, the story must have been fresh, original, and very thrilling.

Dietz's play works best when it embraces the classic, epistolary nature of the novel, even if that means there are rather lengthy monologues which simply provide the exposition. Assuming that a director can cast high-caliber actors for the roles, this version of Dracula is bound to be a satisfying (albeit old-fashioned) theater experience.

Challenges of "Dracula":

As mentioned above, casting is key to a successful production. I recently watched a community theater performance in which all of the supporting actors were at the top of their game: a wonderfully warped Renfield, a boy-scout-natured Johnathan Harker, and a fiercely diligent Van Helsing. But the Dracula that they cast. He was adequate.

Maybe it was the accent. Maybe it was the stereotypical wardrobe. Maybe it was the gray wig he wore during Act One (the ol' vampire starts out ancient and then cleans up pretty nice once he taps into London's blood supply). Dracula is a difficult character to pull off, nowadays. It's not easy to convince modern (aka cynical) audiences that this is a creature who should be feared. It's sort of like trying to take an Elvis impersonator seriously. To make this show excellent, directors must find the right actor to title character. (But I suppose one could say that about a lot of shows: Hamlet, The Miracle Worker, Evita, etc.)

Fortunately, even though the show is named after the guy, Dracula appears sparingly throughout the play. And a talented technical crew armed with special effects, creative lighting design, suspenseful music cues, seamless changes of scenery, and a scream or two can turn Steven Dietz's Dracula into a Halloween show worth experiencing.

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