HUNTINGTON BEACH — After "Nosferatu," UC Irvine's recent spectacular mix of theater with F.W. Murnau's "Dracula"-themed silent film, and especially after Francis Coppola's bloody film spectacle "Bram Stoker's Dracula," the last thing anyone wants is a boring stage version of the story. But Charles Mitchell's adaptation at Golden West College is a model of how expository dialogue does not a drama make.
At some points, his staging unintentionally turns this nightmare into a comedy. At least that was the case Friday night, when a lot of unfortunate tittering swept through the college's Mainstage Theater. Even allowing for an undergraduate cast's inevitable uncertainties on stage, the tensions in Stoker's tale are virtually absent this time.
The best "Draculas" tend to play havoc with Stoker's novel or, as in the Murnau work, to return to the original Transylvanian milieu, where historical Vlad the Impaler dominated the countryside. Stoker imagined that the undead Transylvanian had made it across the English Channel to seduce and possess young women and terrorize everyone else. He imagined it, moreover, as a series of diaries--a fine form for movies to toy with, but deadly for the stage.
Mitchell apparently failed to realize that. His relative faithfulness to Stoker further has resulted in a Prof. Van Helsing (played stodgily by Eric Hansen) who is a walking data base of information on everything vampiric--and nothing will render such a familiar story more bloodless than turning exchanges into a list of how-tos. Van Helsing's constant explanations and proddings create one of those unintentionally comic effects: As such concerned but fairly intelligent men as Dr. Seward (Stephen F. Silva), Jonathan Harker (Jeffrey Glover) and Arthur (Jim Slabacheski) stand around listening to Van Helsing's lectures and harangues, the good professor seems to be telling them what dolts they are.
The stolid staging is broken up only by Michael Richardson's Igor-like performance as Renfield; Erin K. Granahan, who as the possessed Mina comes closest to the sense of sexual-taboos-exposed that "Dracula" ultimately is about; and the dashing Leif Ekberg who, as the count, makes an attention-grabbing entrance and cuts a terrific pose, sweeping his black and red cape around (kudos to Susan Thomas Babb for the nice costumes).
Still, Ekberg--like nearly everyone else in the cast--loses it when he speaks; his delivery is fatally close to "I-vant-to-drink-your-bloooood." Hansen's dialect, a troublesome attempt at Dutch-English, is especially problematic since he has so much to say. Belinda Wilson's Mrs. Westenra acts appropriately as the clueless hostess of the house, but her voice sometimes falls into Brooklynese.
The impression that this production is a learning experience far past these students' abilities extends to the design work by Charles P. Davis, whose two-story set not only engulfs the actors (and sometimes breaks down mechanically), but is an odd mixture of faux-Gothic and '60s suburban living room--instead of a passionate expression of Stoker's world.
\o7 * "Dracula," Golden West College Mainstage Theater, 15744 Golden West St., Huntington Beach. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends Oct. 31. $12. (714) 895-8378. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.\f7
Leif Ekberg: Count Dracula
Eric Hansen: Prof. Van Helsing
Erin K. Granahan: Mina
Jeffrey Glover: Jonathan Harker
Stephen F. Silva: Dr. Seward
Jim Slabacheski: Arthur
Michael Richardson: Renfield
Nicholl Rea Ter Borg: Lucy
Belinda Wilson: Mrs. Westenra
Christina Leffler: Nurse
William Watts: Rogers
A Golden West College production of Charles Mitchell's adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel, directed by Charles Mitchell. Lights: Bill Georges. Set: Charles P. Davis. Costumes: Susan Thomas Babb.