The Theater: Kinky Count (TIME: Monday, October 31, 1977)

DRACULA

Dramatized by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston from Bram Stoker's novel

THE PASSION OF DRACULA Adapted by Bob Hall and David Richmond

Having lost our heroes, we now appear to be losing our villains. Horror mutates into giggly farce. Bloodsucking monsters become, at the worst, no more than kinky. The saga of Count Dracula, a vampire, has at no time lost its fascination. However, it seems to be enjoying an unusual vogue at the moment, with two productions in New York this month, a third soon to come, and movie and television shows in the offing. Whether or not a faddist gothic revival is under way, there is a pervasive skepticism about unrationed faith in rationality and a blind unqualified faith in science that engages the popular mind at the present moment. One character in the Broadway Dracula sums it up this way: "The scientific facts of the future are the superstitions of today."

Whether or not the Dracula boom is a solid vote for primordial superstition, it is certainly a solid boost for fun and may even contain essential elements of theatricality that have been too long neglected. When, for instance, has a playgoer been dazzled and dominated by a set rather than merely giving it the perfunctory opening-curtain applause? Edward Corey's set for Dracula at Manhattan's Martin Beck Theater is an eye-blinker. Broody, vaulting, magisterial, colored in shades of bleakest gray, it is a psychic tomb out of Edgar Allan Poe's haunted imagination. In perfect aesthetic juxtaposition, Gorey's costumes are funereal black, with ruby splashes in a proffered drink or a crimsoned pendant to accent the theme of Dracula's blood lust.

It is lust, all right, but in the person of Frank Langella as a demonic force from the nether world, there is also a doomed lyrical romanticism, a nocturne by Chopin, infused into the play. Tall, slender, incomprehensible as magic, garbed in a cape of Stygian splendor, with a face sculptured in alabaster, Langella's Dracula is no flittering bat but the noblest prince of darkness - the fallen Lucifer - as the play makes elliptically clear, whom only the Cross and the stake can bring to his apocalyptic destiny. Langella has always been a spectral, neurasthenic figure onstage with a temperament of icy disdain. For him this is a role of roles, one with which he will be linked in the future, as Bela Lugosi has been since the 1931 film.

As Dracula's would-be bride for all of eternity, Ann Sachs is a delectably enticing houri in a negligee, or a slinky gown that might well pass for a negligee. Looking much like a vapid blonde flapper out of a 1920s perfume advertisement, she exudes a musk of sensuality that obviously makes Dracula yearn for more than blood. The rest of the cast is exemplary, and the sounds of baying offstage hounds are ear-tingling. But the show belongs first, last, and almost always to Gorey and Langella.

On the tiny stage of Greenwich Village's Cherry Lane Theater, it is, of course, impossible to duplicate Broadway scenic effects, but there is one maleficently phosphorescent white bat in The Passion of Dracula that seems capable of physically whisking a startled playgoer out of his seat. The adapters have capitalized on the fact that Bram Stoker, who wrote the famed original novel, was British, and they have given their play a gratifying quantity of pukka sahib humor, if that appeals to one's taste. At one point a Blimpish army doctor (K. Lype O'Dell), appalled by the bloodsucking havoc this Transylvanian "foreigner" has wreaked on several young girls in the village, exclaims: "This is worse than the Sepoy Mutiny of '57!" Later a reporter-suitor (Samuel Maupin), who has fallen desperately in love with a sensually voluptuous prey (Alice White) of Dracula's, feels compelled to dispatch her with an offstage revolver shot: "You could have had me, my darling, but you cannot have England."

Campiness is not intrusive, however, and the play moves with the brisk tempo and sustained suspense of a good detective story. Called in to solve the Dracula case, Michael Burg, as a Dutch psychologist, manages to create a deft blend of Sigmund Freud and Sherlock Holmes, strangely driven by a troubled Christian conscience. Christopher Bernau's Dracula is not as dramatically or mesmerically imposing as Frank Langella's, but when he swoops on his chosen lady's neck, he dives with the lusty single-minded intensity of a seagull. Since that lady is the pert and provocative Giulia Pagano, it is relatively easy to understand why.

Both of these Dracula shows are delightful romps for sophisticates, children and the vampire elitists who belong to the 15-year-old Count Dracula Society. As for any astute Seventh Avenue clothier who gets a corner on the calf-length velvet cape market, he may make a bloodless killing.

 

T.E.Kalem

Fanged Films

From the Library

As the 20th century evolved, rational man turned to science to explain mythology that had pervaded for thousands of years. How could a man be mistaken for a vampire? How could someone appear to have been the victim of a vampire attack? Science, in time, came back with answers that may surprise you.Anemia
A million fancies strike you when you hear the name: Nosferatu!N O S F E R A T Udoes not die!What do you expect of the first showing of this great work?Aren't you afraid? - Men must die. But legend has it that a vampire, Nosferatu, 'der Untote' (the Undead), lives on men's blood! You want to see a symphony of horror? You may expect more. Be careful. Nosferatu is not just fun, not something to be taken lightly. Once more: beware.- Publicity for Nosferatu in the German magazine Buhne und Film, 1922  

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