L A Theaterworks Review -- Dracula

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Dracula LATW Review by Shiksa Kelly Ravelli

I have to state my bias up front--my name is Shiksa Ravelli and I am a Dracula aficionado. 
I've seen just about every film version, many television adaptations, but unfortunately never saw it performed on stage.  But I do own various Playbills from the Broadway revival in the late 1970s and two souvenir program books from Jeremy Brett's west coast run in the title role.  I've also read the original novel on at least two occasions--one for a college class and the second for my own enjoyment.  So you can say I'm a little more familiar with the subject than most people.  Which is why when Jeannie told me L.A. Theatre Works had done a dramatic reading with David Selby in the role of Van Helsing, I was thrilled. 
Charles Maury's two hour adaptation is extremely faithful to Bram Stoker's original book.  If you've ever seen the many many many film versions and are familiar with the source material, you'll notice characters are added, subtracted, combined, and reversed.  Quincey Morris is usually omitted from most adaptations (including this one) because he and Arthur Holmwood are basically the same character and Holmwood usually wins out.  As in the book, this version tells the story from the point of view of the main human characters thru their diary entries, letters and other personal documents.  In several scenes the different characters will often narrate together, when one starts a sentence or thought, another character will finish it. 
David Selby's interpretation of Van Helsing is very reminiscent of Edward Van Sloan, who originated the role on Broadway in 1927 and later in the 1931 Universal film.  Mr. Selby as Van Helsing is kindly and good-humored but serious and determined.  A particular highlight is when Van Helsing and Dracula first meet face-to-face after Dracula has corrupted Mina.  The banter is magnificent and the confrontation is powerful.  At the beginning of the play, Mr. Selby's natural southern accent has a tendency to slip out but he quickly gets it under control and performs flawlessly for the rest of the play (I kinda giggled when he would say "Nosferatu" as "Nosfera-toe" but this is a minor point).  If "Dracula" was revived once again for a full stage production, I could easily see Mr. Selby in the role of Van Helsing.  As a side note, I had to laugh to myself during the scene where Van Helsing grabs Arthur Holmwood to give the freshly-drained Lucy Westenra an impromptu blood transfusion, because I remembered Dracula's own words in Fred Saberhagen's excellent The Dracula Tapes.  Dracula speaks in his own defense that Van Helsing was a quack who was the real killer of Lucy because he gave her a transfusion without knowing if the blood types were compatible.  You know...he's got a great point. 
Some random notes--1) I am impressed that this version preserves the unsettling scene of Jonathan Harker witnessing Dracula offering a newborn baby to his three brides to satiate their bloodlust. It's very brief and disturbing but a necessary bit of business to let you know Dracula isn't the sanitized, sympathetic, romantic anti-hero he'd become later thru the magic of motion pictures. 2) In the role of Dracula, Simon Templeman (primarily known for his voice work) made the role his own.  He does not imitate Bela Lugosi but speaks with the voice of an ancient, anguished, malevolent creature.  3) As Renfield, John Glover is not a cackling theatrical madman, as commonly portrayed, but a Shakespeare-quoting tortured man who is fully aware he is a slave to Dracula and unable to return to sanity. 
If you're a fan of Dracula and/or David Selby, this is definitely worth listening to and I think you'll enjoy it very much.  You can purchase it from the L.A. Theatre Works website, on Amazon, or  I subscribe to L.A. Theatre Works on iTunes and they have a tendency to rerun certain productions.   

@2012 by Shiksa Kelly Ravelli

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