David Drake(Photo: Tim Atkinson)
David Drake
(Photo: Tim Atkinson)
David Drake is not a vampire. However, he might just be related to Vlad Dracula, the historical figure that served as nominal inspiration for Bram Stoker's famous novel, Dracula. Vlad was no vampire, either; he was dubbed "Vlad the Impaler" due to his penchant for impaling his enemies on the point of a very large stick. In his new solo show Son of Drakula, Drake -- probably best known as the writer-performer of The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me -- explores his genealogical heritage. Born David Drakula, he embarks on a journey of discovery in this funny and oftentimes moving monologue.

As part of his five-year-long search into his family's past, Drake attends the World Dracula Congress in Romania, which has as its theme: "Redefining the Diabolic: Dracula and the 21st Century." The congress itself alternates between historical figure and fictional creation. The last known descendent of Vlad the Impaler -- Professor Constantin Balaceanu-Stolnici -- delivers a paper on the religious legacy of the Draculas. Other papers explore topics like homoeroticism in Bram Stoker's novel, speculating on an erotic affair between Stoker and Walt Whitman.

Drake embodies dozens of characters throughout the performance, employing his charismatic stage presence and marvelous comic timing to full advantage. Some of these figures are mere caricatures, like the female academic who rants about the psychosexual politics within Stoker's text, while others are much more fully drawn portraits. Drake is at his best when channeling his father: A riveting scene has the writer-performer reenacting an interview that he conducted with his dad prior to the latter's death. A voice-over of Drake as himself plays while Drake speaks in his father's voice. The tension between the two men is almost palpable, ranging from the slight awkwardness that results when David's homosexuality is brought up to the silence that follows after David refers to his conception as an "accident."

In the end, the play is less about Drake discovering a connection to Vlad as it is about his finding a common link between himself and his father. The piece seamlessly interweaves tales from Drake's childhood with those of his more recent genealogical quest.

Drake's mother also figures prominently in the show. "I am no longer the bride of Dracula," she declares upon leaving Drake's father. Keys to the author's past arise in the form of vignettes such as the one where young David follows one of his mother's beaus at a drive-in by honing in on the man's cologne; memory is revealed to be an imperfect resource as Drake first identifies the man as someone named Ray, then revises the story to assert that it was actually one of his teachers, Steve Hardy. The moment is a telling one within an autobiographical performance, pointedly marking the narration as being the truth of the performer while questioning the reliability of the information offered.

A structural problem within the show is that it seems to climax at the end of the Dracula Congress, with a visit to the original Castle Dracula -- but the performance does not end here. In fact, it goes on for quite a bit longer as Drake relates his journey to Croatia to speak with his actual blood relatives. Although the stories he tells in this sequence are moving and revelatory, they almost seem like postscripts to his main text. The sequence is also difficult to follow: So many new characters are introduced that it's difficult to keep track of their identities and relationships to each other.

Nevertheless, Son of Drakula is compelling. The pacing of the performance is excellent, no doubt thanks in large part to director Chuck Brown. Set and lighting designer Mark T. Simpson also contributes to the overall success of the show, particularly through use of projections and shifts in lighting that effectively create both mood and location for Drake's numerous tales. Quentin Chiappetta's original music and sound design are also praiseworthy.

The question of Drake's connection to Vlad the Impaler is never fully resolved here, but it does provide for much interesting speculation. "I've never impaled anyone," Drake relates to an acquaintance while visiting Dracula's castle. Then he pauses just long enough to get the full comic effect before continuing: "...with a stick."