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'Dracula': One Foot in Coffin?


SAN DIEGO — "Dracula" just won't die.

Not the legend, anyway. As the Old Globe Theatre tackles Steven Dietz's 1995 adaptation of Bram Stoker's century-old novel, what fascinates more than the show itself is the question of why the myth keeps coming back to suck the blood from our collective imagination.

Why does this vampire tale and its age-old suggestion of good versus evil, clean versus unclean, continue to frighten and titillate the senses? What does that say about us, anyway?

Under the direction of South Coast Rep veteran Mark Rucker, in his Old Globe debut, the key to the appeal seems to be spectacle: immense theatricality for its own sake. Blood does not simply pour here, it spurts like a geyser. Coffins rise and fall through a haze of smoke billowing from trap doors in David Jenkins' eerily suggestive set. A tortured Renfield (Enrico Colantoni) is lifted, writhing, high in the air and dropped in an immense clanging cage. Eerie music wails as wolves howl, winds whip and gates crash, sounds melting into the haze of Michael Gilliam's startling lighting effects.

Andrew Lloyd Webber would probably have a time composing music for a story as big-themed and visual as this. As it is, Michael Roth's original music and sound design are big and meaty enough for a co-starring role.

The Old Globe, as always, puts on a show with impeccable professionalism. The cast--featuring Reg Rogers as a languid, world-weary, seductive count--is charismatic and affecting. And yet, despite the fine ensemble, the newness of Dietz's version, and his lush and lovely flair for the rich turn of phrase, there is a sense that "Dracula" finally may be getting a bit dated.

The story's credibility requires a certainty in absolute good versus absolute evil that a more complex, multicultural world may question now. Non-Christians probably always have been skeptical, if not offended, by the waving of crucifixes, rosaries and holy water to ward off evil. And even those who want to plug modern bad guys into the equation may have run out of candidates after the end of Cold War witch hunts.

* "Dracula," Old Globe Theatre, Balboa Park, San Diego. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m.; Saturdays-Sundays, 2 p.m. Ends April 20.

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