By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Technical fouls-ups could almost be excused if any of the acting were decent. No such luck. In this production, the best performance is by the gal who takes the tickets and says, without wincing, "Enjoy the show." (Maybe she hasn't seen it.) Dracula (Tom Clyborne Finney) is the worst of the bunch. He doesn't suck blood--he just sucks. He wears a waist-length, stringy black wig and introduces himself to other characters as "Drac-yulia.'' His gray-green body makeup stops at his double chin (blend, blend), and he's about as scary as a bag of lint. Finney seems unaware of some of the basic rules of acting. He's slow to pick up cues, and he blows his one great line--"I never drink...wine''--by ignoring the pause. Sometimes Dracula enters scenes through a door but then exits around the edge of the flimsy set. The departures are punctuated with huge bursts of steam that shoot out from the wings like the 10:14 leaving from Track 9 (wait for me!).
In their continuous blooper reel of onstage flubs, actors in Dracula stumble over furniture, fumble lines, speak dialogue almost exclusively to the upstage wall, fetch unlit lamps to hold over corpses, clump up in little groups and mumble, stare out of covered windows and describe what they're seeing, catch hems of costumes in closing doors, exit stage right and inexplicably re-enter seconds later from stage left. If they were trying to play it for comedy, they would have to rehearse for weeks to make this many ridiculous mistakes.
And it just kept getting odder the night I was there. One actor's fly remained unzipped in Acts 2 and 3. The guy playing the ingenue's love interest started out butch and by the end was mincing and lisping so daintily he appeared to be auditioning for La Cage aux Folles. Stagehands came onstage and began shifting set pieces during scenes, as if they were fed up and ready to head home (could I get a ride?). Blame for all of this has to fall on the director, Dean Armstrong, a member of El Centro's theater faculty. What was he thinking? Why didn't the cast mutiny?
It was hard not to laugh at the titanic badness of it, and midway through the performance reviewed, the audience did start to giggle. We were afraid to laugh too hard, however, as we were outnumbered by the cast: 11 people onstage, nine out front. But when Van Helsing (Jarod Warren) and Jack Seward (John Carroll, founder of the Cargo Theatre Company) started draping garlic pods the size of turnips around the neck of the dying Lucy (Jana McGill), we couldn't help ourselves. Laughs came loud and long. I vass dyink.