It’s Got the Teeth, But Not Enough of a Bitetesttest
Time is short, and it’s bloody frightful. This much we sense from the moment we enter the theater, where a towering clock face in crimson and coal looms over the stage, its second hand racing. A vampire feasts on a maiden. A rampaging lunatic cackles and cowers. Scrim up. Welcome to The Bowie Community Theater’s Dracula, an otherwise pallid reflection of a classic.
A lot has happened to Dracula since Bram Stoker wrote the deathless novel in 1897. Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston’s script made Bela Lugosi’s career when he animated the title role on Broadway in 1927. More melodrama than suspense, that truncated version is reprised here, under the direction of Michael Forgetta. Forget the original family names, relationships and travels, and forget Dracula’s terrifying Transylvanian castle.
Here the set is the British sanatorium of Dr. Seward (Mike Collins), whose daughter Lucy (Amanda Magoffin) is the only living victim of Dracula (Pat Reynolds). His undead bride Mina, Lucy’s best friend, is a mere shade of rumor.
Dr. Van Helsing (Jack Degnan) still holds all the supernatural answers to Lucy’s mysterious anemia, and Jonathan Harker (Mike Hite), who believes Van Helsing’s folklore, rarely leaves Lucy’s side — except for the most inopportune moments. Dr. Seward’s incredulity still thwarts progress. His patient Renfield (Gerard Williams), a life-obsessed insect and rodent muncher, is more central than ever to the plot as Van Helsing pumps him for information about Dracula, the master he fears and follows.
The storyline demands more acting talent than special effects to sustain interest. The best of the actors meet the challenge. Reynolds’ Dracula is mesmerizing. He displays a superhuman range and agility, switching from patrician to parasite in the blink of an eye and evolving from hunter to quarry with alarming ferocity. It was pure pleasure to see that remarkable performer stretch himself in yet another challenging stop on his march toward a professional career.
Williams backs him up with haunted energy and some modern twists on Renfield’s lunatic stereotype. Magoffin comes into her own in Act II when Lucy segues from prim ingénue to seductive temptress.
For the most part, however, what’s scary is how wooden this show feels. Danny Brooks and Mary MacLeod in the minor roles of Hospital Attendant and Maid revive the pace with brief but animated appearances, but their considerable talents are wasted.
The show gets off to a slow start with many dropped lines in Act I, only to lose momentum in an early and unnecessary intermission. The best action — confrontations between Dracula and Van Helsing — comes too late.
The racing clock is distracting, and costumes are confusing. Lucy’s boudoir, a sacrificial altar of sorts, looms over a library peopled with characters who appear to be plucked from different eras. Most would be at home in Churchill’s England, but Renfield looks like a punk rocker and Dracula sports a chinstrap and leather duster.
As the silent stage amplifies the stiff performances, more sensory mischief would help. Winds sometimes herald Dracula’s arrival, billowing the crimson-and-coal curtains framing Lucy’s room to nice effect. There is much talk of bats, yet none appear. We need more howling wolves, more music, more ticking clocks and some thunder.
Like Dracula, I was thirsting for more.
Playing thru Oct. 13. FSa 8pm, Su 2pm at Bowie Playhouse, 16500 White Marsh Park Dr. $17 w/discounts; rsvp: 301-805-0219; www.bctheatre.com.