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September 28, 2023
A Show to Sink Your Teeth Into
Dracula, A Comedy of Terrors
Photo by Matthew Murphy

The name Dracula always evokes iconic images of the fang-baring scary creature dressed in black. Think Bela Lugosi. Or the Count. Or even the incredibly sensual heartthrob portrayal by Frank Langella.

In the most recent take-off, “Dracula, a Comedy of Terrors” at The New World Stages, Gordon Greenberg and Steve Rosen use familiar comic shtick and gender - reversal while following much of the actual Bram Stoker story. In addition, the Off-Broadway production has four of the five actors play multiple roles.Their quick changes, some of which we witness, provide another source of humor.

The story begins with Jonathan Harker (Andrew Keenan-Bolger,) a real estate agent, traveling to do business with Dracula, the dark and deadly denizen of Transylvania. Harker is engaged to Lucy and he brags about her and shares her picture with Dracula, piquing his interest. So Dracula boards a ship to England, in search of Lucy. Mysteriously, everyone on the ship dies of an unknown disease. Hmm.

This Dracula in this show is the sexy type and the audience first meets the attractive James Daly, posing, almost shirtless, and showing off his body. More than 6 feet tall and blonde, he also towers over the other actors, particularly Keenan-Bolger with whom he competes for Lucy. Daly is fun to watch, but my companions complained that he is so blonde and so pale, but I explained that is because Dracula is never in the sun.

The story sets up an unnecessary conflict between Lucy and Harker. She is the bold adventurous type while he is timid and cowardly. They make an unlikely pair but will Jonathan rise to the challenge in keeping Lucy safe and rescuing Mina? Does his temerity provide a reason for Lucy to turn to the incredibly attractive visitor? The plot device drags the story down a bit.

Expert comic actor, Arnie Burton ( “The 39 Steps” and “Peter and the Starcatcher,” ) steals the show as Mina, Lucy’s less-attractive sister. Burton is a pretty homely woman. One plot device has everyone attracted to Lucy (played by Jordan Boatman) while being mildly repelled by Mina. Why are men playing women’s roles funnier than the reverse? Actress Ellen Harvey works equally hard portraying Dr. Westfeldt, the girls’ father, yet she isn’t as humorous.

As with many Off-Broadway productions, staging and costuming are minimal. When she becomes Westfeldt’s insect- eating patient Renfield, Harvey merely dons a messy wig to cover her face and a shapeless shirt. She does well in both roles. Boatman does a good job as the feisty Lucy and Keenan-Bolger is fine as Harker.

There are some attempts to modernize the story, so that the women characters aren’t merely victims. Lucy is shown as strong, certainly more courageous than her fiance. Later Westfeldt is astounded to learn that Dr. Van Helsing, whom he contacted to help cure Mina, is actually female.(though played by Burton.)

The show is fun but the gimmicks, like the mini-coach on top of the stage as well as the gender reversal, are all familiar. But, so what? This Dracula is a bit more sexual than we usually see in comic versions. The innuendos, especially from Mina who desperately craves a man and throws herself at everyone, create much of the humor of the show.

It’s October and I’ve already broken into the candy corn and my neighbors have begun decorating for their Halloween visitors. If you are looking for a Halloween scary show, this isn’t it. Nor is it one for youngsters, but the show provides gentle fun, especially with Burton in his stride. As he plays both the horny Mina and the imperious Germanic Dr.Van Helsing, his comic skill and expertise are on full display.

The way to kill a vampire is with a stake through the heart or in the words of Van Helsing in ‘her’ thick German accent a “shtick.” “Dracula: a Comedy of Terrors” is filled with shtick.

The show is a fun, pleasant jaunt with wordplay and some popular cultural references. Just a little something to sink your teeth into.

New World Stages / Stage 5
340 West 50th Street
New York NY 10019

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Written by: Elyse Trevers
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