By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
We learn from failure, not from success!" wrote Bram Stoker in Dracula. If Irving's ICT MainStage heeds that advice, director Bruce R. Coleman's staging of the 1897 vampire saga, adapted by Seattle playwright Steven Dietz, will not have been in vain. Or vein.
So much is right in the beginning of the show, it's a shame when it starts falling apart. This production is like sitting down in a new restaurant to a tantalizing hors d'oeuvre, then getting an entrée of tepid hash followed by a chunk of coal for dessert. It all seemed so promising with that first bite.
The appetizer in Dracula is a thrilling opening sequence, a savagely choreographed combat scene set among the Huns in 15th-century Rumania. Clacking and twirling their fighting sticks, actors in blood-red period costumes leap and roll in a violent ballet (choreographed by Oscar Steele). Lights go down with the audience atwitter at the action. Lights come up in late 19th-century London in the bedroom of Lucy and Mina, giggly Victorians who practice-kiss each other as they prattle on about their boyfriends, Dr. Seward, who runs the nearby asylum, and Mr. Harker, a solicitor off on a journey to the Carpathian Mountains to see you-know-who.
Dracula continues through November 17 at ICT MainStage, Dupree Theater, Irving Arts Center, 972-252-2787.
Pygmalion continues through November 25 at Theatre Three, 214-871-3300.
Dietz's script and Coleman's show go kerflooey soon after the Hun party. The girls chatter too much, and the remainder of the long first act unfolds in a jumble of confusing exposition and flashbacks. The title character doesn't even appear until 30 minutes in, and by then we're so over it, we don't care. Count Dracula may be undead, but he's in a play that expires before he arrives.
If only the script and the performances were as fresh and stylish as Coleman's production design (he also did set and costumes). For live theater to work as it should, all the elements should blend seamlessly to create one multilayered piece of art. For Dracula, Coleman, one of Dallas theater's busiest director-designers, has paid lavish attention to the visuals at the expense of the speaking parts.
Sound, lights, scenery, costumes—heating up the homoerotic subtext, most of the men go shirtless, even on foggy London nights—all are rendered beautifully. Coleman's scenic design is a marvel. The wide proscenium stage at the Dupree Theater is symmetrically framed by towering black and white cutouts of hunky telamones supporting the second level of the set on their beefy shoulders. Claret-colored velvet curtains under the figures' outstretched arms part to reveal Lucy's bed, draped in black linens, and the dank cell in Seward's asylum where one of Drac's acolytes, the crazed inmate Renfield, snatches flies from the air and gobbles them like candy.
The cast is as visually stunning as the scenery. This Dracula skews so young that many of the actors are too green perhaps to know what they're doing wrong.
Recent SMU music grad Nikolai David Kiselov, in his ICT debut, is an underwhelming Count Dracula. His speaking voice is slight, his diction garbled. At the end of phrases he adds an open-mouthed hiss that's more comic than scary. He's Jim Carrey imitating Gary Oldman.
The role of Drac-hunter Abraham Van Helsing is minimized in the Dietz version—for much of the first act, we're not really sure who he is. Greg Jackson, another ICT first-timer, strikes a handsome profile in the role, with his shoulder-length, partly braided blond locks. But he's another low-talker with a tendency to singsong lines too rapidly to comprehend.
As Dr. Seward, Shane Hamlin shouts words in a raspy croak. Playing Harker, William Lanier, also an ICT newcomer, strengthens his so-so performance by doing most of it wearing only tight trousers and shiny boots. His torso sports a six-pack, but his speaking voice is flabby.
Julie Reinagel and Esther Selgrath are pretty as Lucy and Mina, the girls who get sucked in and sucked on by the caped invader, but only Reinagel throws herself into the part vocally and physically. Under a silky mane of white-blond ringlets, Reinagel wafts dreamily into Drac's arms. She's also lovely in the opening of the second act, a dance piece for Lucy, Harker and Renfield choreographed by Sergio Garcia to Imogen Heap's haunting "Hide and Seek."
Coleman's take on Dracula has a hipster goth-rock sensuality to it that only actor John de los Santos, playing Renfield, really goes to town with. As a dancer, de los Santos has been the go-to guy for solos and partnering in lots of musicals (he was the seductive carny in the dream ballet in Lyric's recent Carousel). Playing the bug-chomping inmate, he's such a strong presence, the whole focus of the play shifts to him. That's all right. We need a point of interest in an overlong script that bogs down in boring speeches. Whenever he's in a scene, bathing his face in rat's blood or asking Dr. Seward, "May I smell you?," de los Santos is devilish fun. Compared to him, the rest of the ensemble just seems bloodless.
The cast of Dracula could benefit from lessons in "the divine gift of articulate speech" with Professor Henry Higgins. George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion is back on the boards again, this time at Theatre Three, where it speaks loudly and carries some small shtick.