Halloween arrives very early this year at the Classic Stage Company. On Monday, the Off Broadway theater company unveiled new stage versions of “Dracula,” by Kate Hamill, and “Frankenstein,” by Tristan Bernays, playing in repertory. The feminist redo of Bram Stoker’s meditation on Victorian repression is by far the more successful fright night.
Paul Morrissey’s “Blood for Dracula” (1974) continues to deliver my personal favorite bloodsucker. In that Andy Warhol-produced classic, Udo Kier goes into convulsions every time he makes the mistake of drinking the blood of a woman who claims to be but isn’t a virgin. In the final reel, Joe Dallesandro has no choice but to deflower Silvia Dionisio before Kier can sink his teeth into her. Clearly, “Blood for Dracula” is even more sexist than Stoker’s original.
Hamill’s “Dracula” sees vampirism as a male club, not unlike the one in “The Stepford Wives,” where Count Dracula (Matthew Amendt) recruits other men to join him in his subjugation of women. Doctor Van Helsing, the vampire slayer (Jessica Frances Dukes), is now a feminist on a mission, and asylum inmate Renfield (Hamill herself) has also undergone a sex change. Sarna Lapine, best known for her revival of “Sunday in the Park With George” starring Jake Gyllenhaal, directs with a broad musical comedy flair. Everyone from Elton John to Frank Wildhorn has tried to set Stoker’s story to music and failed on Broadway. With the right songwriter, Hamill and Lapine could have a hit tuner on their hands. Until then, this “Dracula” has a weird pulse and rhythm all its own.
Since vampires have a thing for babies, one of Hamill’s ingenious touches is to make Mina Harker an expectant mother. Playing Mina, Kelley Curran gives a great impersonation of Rebecca Hall at her most concerned. This pregnancy is a real suspense builder: who’s going to devour Mina’s unborn kid? With Curran’s final walk across the stage, stake in hand, this “Dracula” does not disappoint in its dramatic payoff to her now mammoth belly.
Van Helsing is often referred to as a “cowboy,” and Dukes fits the bill in her black hat and leather (costumes by Robert Peroziola). Near the end, Hamill’s “Dracula” turns into a female action movie, and the able actors under the fight direction of Michael B. Chin, with spectacular help from Adam Honore’s lighting and Leon Rothenberg’s sound design, both replicate and send up the mannerisms of that male genre.
The show could use less of Hamill’s loony Renfield and more of Amendt’s suave Dracula, who lingers in his coffin offstage far too much in Act 2. But there are compensations. Van Helsing’s quest ends up having less to do with the Count than Mina’s dense husband, Jonathan Harker (Michael Crane, being effectively ambiguous) and the “pig-headed” quack who summoned her, Doctor Seward (Matthew Saldivar). Hamill’s script is loaded with easy laugh lines, but Saldivar expertly mines a much subtler kind of comedy. He draws comic blood out of his character’s many stodgy comments.
Bernays’ “Frankenstein,” on the other hand, makes you appreciate what James Whale and Boris Karloff did to the Mary Shelley classic back in 1931. As with the novel, the Creature here goes from grunting idiot to Rhodes Scholar in record time. Stephanie Berry gives a grand, pompous performance as the Creature. She also gives a grand, pompous performance as its maker, Victor Frankenstein. By the way, is it now politically incorrect to call it “the Monster”?
Rob Morrison plays a variety of characters while strumming a guitar. A moment of unintentional but much needed comic relief comes when he breaks into a country ballad, embellished with a hillbilly twang, to describe the plight of these Swiss characters.
Timothy Douglas directs.