Halloween Comes Early With Dracula's Arrival

Richard Rice Alan

I never thought I'd see a tightrope act at the Surflight but tonight I saw eight people walking the wire without a net. I'm talking, of course, about Dracula, the Surflight's current production. Dracula is a tightrope act because in this jaded age the very idea of Dracula resides not in Transylvania but in the borderlands between melodrama and camp.

Dracula is a genuine melodrama. The Count himself must be an imposing, charismatic, larger than death character who projects supremely confident evil. That's hard to do on film but damned near impossible on stage, where the actor doesn't have close-ups and camera angles to help him out. The hardest part is that the closer the actor comes to achieving the persona he wants to project the closer he comes to self-parody. If he doesn't go far enough we won't believe he's really Dracula; If he goes too far, he's Count Chocula.

Fortunately Richard Rice Alan, who plays the King of Vampires, successfully walks the tightrope and gives us exactly the Dracula the role calls for. He is formal and reserved without being stiff and he affects a Transylvanian accent without sounding like he's doing a bad Bela Lugosi impression.

Alan is deadly serious in his portrayal of the celebrated hemophage and just as important, his castmates play it straight too. That's a big part of why the play works.

Robert Welch, who was almost over the top in Lend Me A Tenor smoothly segues from comedy to drama as Dracula's nemesis Van Helsing. Between his completely different character and his gray hair and mustache I didn't even recognize him at first. John Wilkerson as Dr. Seward and Scott McGowan as John Harker round out the team dedicated to Dracula's destruction. They too play it straight to great effect.

Renfield, Dracula's pathetic, insane lackey is portrayed by Andrew Foote. In less capable hands Renfield, with his ravings and gesticulations, could shatter the fragile illusion of dread created by Dracula and his foes. But Foote never goes over the edge. John Bow, a newcomer, does yeoman's work as the lunatic's keeper.

There are just two female roles. After Kristen Bohr's turn as Sister Amnesia in Nunsense, I was eager to see her in a different role. As Dr. Seward's cockney maid, she continues to show promise.

The part of Dracula's prime target Lucy is played by Erin Esposito, who gets to play the character three different ways. Whoever designed her makeup knew what he or she was doing. First Lucy is a wan, weak and drained victim and her ugly wig and cadaverous look actually make this lovely actress look quite unappealling. Then, as the vampiest of vampiric seductresses she's suddenly wickedly enticing. Finally, when she's no longer under the Count's spell, she looks, well, normal.

I had a minor quibble with Dracula's makeup. I thought his lips were perhaps a bit too bright a shade of cerise for a guy who'd been dead for five centuries. Against his stark white face I thought it looked too much like lipstick.

So as you can see I have to reach a bit to come up with a criticism of this production. It's a great show. I can't say Dracula actually frightened me. But it did impress, surprise and entertain me.

Evening performances run through October 8, 2003 at 8:00 p.m. with matinees on October 9 and 12 at 2 p.m.