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Paul Alexander's anemic production of the classic vampire play is neither atmospherically spooky nor campily funny. logo
Michel Altieri and Emily Bridges in Dracula
(© Carol Rosegg)
Given the phenomenal success of HBO's True Blood and the Twilight film series -- and the renewed mania for vampires which they have inspired -- it's little surprise that a revival of John L. Balderston and Hamilton Deane's classic 1927 stage adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula, now at the Little Shubert, has flown back into town. But theatergoers hoping to find a sexy or spine-tingling night with the most famous member of the undead should be advised that director Paul Alexander has served up a horribly anemic if decidedly earnest production of the play, one that's neither atmospherically spooky nor campily funny.

To be sure there are moments in the piece that are unintentionally -- and sadly -- amusing. What appears to be a crepe paper bat bobs down outside one of the windows of Dana Kenn's workman-like interior settings for the show, bringing to mind the sort of silliness that one might encounter in a haunted house at a country fair. There are also times when the heavily wired collar of the cape that Dracula (Michel Altieri) sports looks like it might have come from a second rate Halloween shop. (The surprisingly uninspired costume choices are by Willa Kim.)

The play, set in England right before World War II, focuses on how Dr. Seward (Timothy Jerome) and his best friend Dr. Van Helsing (George Hearn) rescue Seward's daughter Lucy (Emily Bridges) from the mysterious disease (i.e. Dracula's repeated visits to her at night) that has left her incredibly weak and plagued with bad dreams.

In the title role, Altieri brings to mind the images on the covers of romance novels that can cause some women's hearts to flutter. His long jet black hair trails down to his mid-back, sometimes slicked into a neat ponytail and sometimes cascading around his face, and his thick Italian accent certainly gives this Dracula an exotic sound. But he rarely generates any real sexual heat, and there is absolutely no chemistry between him and the wan Bridges, particularly as Dracula's fateful and almost final seduction of Lucy transpires.

Hearn and Jerome know their way around the material to be certain, but the sort of natural sparkle that theatergoers have come to expect from them onstage is missing. Also sadly bland is former daytime TV star Jake Silbermann as Lucy's fiancé, Jonathan Harker, who helps to vanquish the vampire who has nearly claimed Lucy's life and soul.

More flamboyant is John Buffalo Mailer, who plays Seward's psychotic patient Renfield. For this production, this character, a madman who eats flies and spiders because he believes that he is ingesting their life force, has been reconceived as a transplanted Louisianan, and Mailer gives a performance that is part Jack Nicholson in The Shining and part Vivien Leigh in Streetcar Named Desire.

This reimagining of the Renfield character isn't the only alteration that Alexander has made to the script. He's divided the three-act play into two parts, stopping the action for intermission abruptly. In addition, he's added a curious sequence between the first and second acts in which Renfield climbs up and down the walls of the Seward home, which may be meant to enliven the work but feels merely extraneous.

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