Yet another incarnation of Dracula. The Telluride Repertory Theatre and Paul Lucas in association with HERE have brought their new concept of Nosferatu--based on a combination of Bram Stoker's Dracula and F. W. Murnau's silent film adaptation Nosferatu--to New York City. Billed as a multi-media piece, but including only a couple of scene-setting slides, the performance was a combination of dance, instrumental music, and acting. This Nosferatu, though it has problems, is quite a sight to behold.
The story is familiar with a few minor changes. Jonathan Harker, ingenue Mina's husband (or fiancée in some versions) is now Ellen Harker, Mina's sister. It is Ellen who, influenced by the evil Renfield, journeys to Transylvania to meet with potential real estate buyer Count Orlock (a.k.a. Dracula or Nosferatu). Trapped in the Count's secluded castle, Ellen falls prey to the Vampire, while back home her sister Mina has violent premonitions of her sister's fate. Nosferatu, like an animal attracted to Mina's scent and spirit, travels to her homeland bringing his "plague" with him. Mina soon realizes that she must sacrifice her life to stop Nosferatu with her goodness.
Other versions of the Dracula story give the vampire different motivations. In Coppola's film, Mina was the spitting image (and spirit) of Dracula's dead wife. Bela Lugosi portrayed Dracula as a sexy, sophisticated ladies man. Nowadays, vampires are vinyl-clad, club-hopping 20-somethings on a rampage for sex and blood. In Nosferatu the legend is simple: it is Mina's goodness and light that destroy the darkness of the Vampire.
It is the classic tale of good versus evil, told in stark black and white. And it is certainly the first theater piece I have ever seen in black and white. The incredible look is achieved thanks to the wonderful costume and set design by François Tomsu, complimented by Andy Grondahl's makeup design. All colors vanish from the stage--even the actors' skin tones are masked by a white Kabuki-type base and brown rings around the eyes. The amorphous costumes range from brown and black to white. Together they produce a startling effect as you realize that theirs is a colorless world.
Nosferatu is a compelling story, so familiar and so basic it can be told without words. This is what director René Migliaccio attempts to do. The production opens with a hair-raising dance performed by the "chorus": 14 physical actors dressed as phantoms (or vampires) cavorting around the stage in a combination of ecstasy, pain, and fear. The chorus is completely the director's invention, and it reappears at key moments in the piece to reinforce the action and mirror the leads' emotions. It is a trick that really works, particularly towards the end when the chorus dances right up to the audience in a collective chorale orgy.
Many of the actors have wonderful moments. Anne Alquist as Mina is beautiful and fragile, the epitome of goodness while her sister, Suzan Beraza, is a strong, expressive non-sexual presence. Lori Vincent as Mina's friend Lucy has an incredible scene where she is raped and killed by the invisible Vampire. Vincent writhes about the stage, fighting off this unseen evil. Chorus members who double as various minor characters are also given a chance to shine. Gonzalo Muñoz and Dario Tangelson have a funny scene as prison guards duped by the sneaky Renfield.
And I have saved the best for last: Nikolai Kinski. Kinski's name is synonymous with the Nosferatu legend; Nikolai's father Klaus played the Vampire in director Werner Herzog's 1979 remake of the 1922 classic. How does young Kinski fare? Talent runs in his family, particularly when playing evil, eerie characters. Kinski's Nosferatu is simultaneously terrifying and sensual. You are drawn to and repulsed by him at the same time. When he is onstage, all eyes are on him--every actor's, every audience member's. He seemingly floats on stage, alternating between a controlled calm and aggravated, aggressive behavior.
The show is too long, a problem that could be easily solved if the director cut some of the needless dialogue. This is a production that tells so much of its story visually, yet there are scenes when suddenly everyone becomes very chatty. I watched Murnau's Nosferatu out of curiosity. It was clear that Migliaccio was emulating the 1922 classic, but how much? Migliaccio does a scene-by-scene recreation, and almost all the dialogue spoken on stage is taken from the silent film's dialogue cards. This does not always work. For example, when a doctor comes to examine Mina in her delirium there is a beautiful tableau on stage: Mina lying helpless and ill on the bed with the doctor, and her friend Lucy leaning over her. As the music fades out the doctor cries, "A sudden fever!" No kidding.
In the Murnau classic, the doctor actually does cry out that line, but since it is a silent film, the card tells us without breaking the mood. This may seem like an inconsequential quibble, but Nosferatu is a show so meticulously structured and timed, little problems like that become glaring. There are other similar moments--for instance, when a pre-recorded cock crows to signify daylight when the lighting has already made it clear. If a good percentage of the dialogue was cut, it would reduce the length, and increase the beauty, of the piece.
In the program there is a note about the Dracula legend, and Nosferatu in particular, which reads, "Nosferatu became a foreboding allegory on the rise of Nazism." Today the story can be interpreted in many ways: as an allegory for AIDS, a comment on our class structure, the unseen evils of the new technological age. Thankfully, this Nosferatu can also be enjoyed as a classic horror tale.