Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, September 2003

The frost was on the pumpkin, the wind was wild, and wispy streaks of grey cloud whipped past a luminous waxing Gibbous in the eastern sky. What a perfect night to walk into the Ghent Playhouse and see Dracula!

On a versatile and gloomy set designed by Bill Camp, director Tom Detwiler and his cast and crew serve up a production that is just camp enough not to scare the daylights out of you. Roberta Carlson has provided a musical background score that adds to the sense of the supernatural, and some spectacular pyrotechnic and lighting effects help make Ken De Loreto’s portrayal of the cursed count seem truly other-worldly. Eerily authentic wolf calls have been provided by real-life wolf expert Scott Ian Barry, who has howled with wolves at Carnegie Hall (really!)

All this on that tiny stage? Yup. A Transylvanian castle, a London home, a cell in a lunatic asylum, two tombs, and a boat all effectively brought to life in a space barely larger than most folks’ living rooms. Often scenes in different locations are staged simultaneously or in rapid overlap. Camp and Detwiler have succeeded in bringing a cinematic effect to the Ghent stage.

This two-act dramatic retelling of Bram Stoker’s novel by Steven Dietz is a Dracula without bats, and De Loreto is a Dracula without hair. He does wear a cape though, and an impressive set of fingernails with make his long, thin, spidery fingers look even longer and sharper. He is a tall, slender man, not classically handsome like some interpretations of the Count. But he is successfully spooky at all times.

After Paul Murphy’s inspired Renfield, De Loreto is the strongest male player on the stage. In spite of some strong credentials, Drew Davidson as Dr. Seward, Nicholas Miscusi as Jonathan Harker, and Marvin Shapiro as Professor Van Helsing turn in, dare I say it, bloodless performances. De Loreto is terrifying, Stephanie Tanaka as Lucy and Preudence Theriault as Mina are wasting away, and these guys just don’t seem very excited about the whole thing. Shapiro pontificates ponderously, Davidson simpers, and Miscusi appears permanently stunned, as if Harker never recovers from his initial shock at meeting the Count.

But Murphy, ah, he makes the whole show work. Claiming the first and last lines of the evening, and convincingly delivering some of Deitz’s most shocking lines and scenes, Murphy has a ball playing the insane (or is he?) Renfield. Deitz uses Renfield to tie the plot lines together until the thick-headed threesome of Seward, Harker and Van Helsing catch on and finally arrive at Dracula’s tomb with a cross, a box of communion wafers, and a sturdy stake and mallet.

The ladies are lovely to look at and obviously have a great time portraying the falls from grace of these two saintly virgins. Takana is a hoot in her final scene when she comes to reenter Lucy’s tomb after a night of feasting on children. And Theriault, as the triumphant Mina, steadfastly takes control of her own fate after ascertaining that the men aren’t going to be much help.

Keith Caldwell, as Renfield’s beleaguered attendant, is hilariously henpecked. But although there are several good laughs in this play, Detwiler and his company offer this classic story of the struggle between good and evil pretty much straight up. And, while not a perfect Dracula, the overall production is darned good and an entertaining thrill for a crisp autumn evening.

The stage blood is kept to a minimum, but I will still warn the faint of heart to stay away, and remind parents that this tale is not suitable for kids under 12, unless you want to stay up several nights in a row assuaging nightmares. You might just need a glass of warm milk and a cookie or two yourself!

Dracula runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through October 12 at the Ghent Playhouse, on Town Hall Road just off Rt. 66 next to the fire station. The show runs two hours and thirty minutes with one intermission. It would definitely be scary for younger children, so don't bring anyone under 10. Tickets are $15, $12 for Playhouse members. Call the box office at 518-392-6264 for tickets and information.

copyright Gail M. Burns, 2003

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