IT APPEARS ARIZONA Theatre Company saved the best for last. After a painfully dull start (although Blues in the Night offered a lively reprieve), ATC finally hit the mark with the beautifully written and performed Dancing at Lughnasa. Now, as if it has something to prove (and it does), ATC butts another theatrical success right up against the last.
Dracula, Steven Dietz's adaptation of Bram Stoker's novel, delivers a splendid evening of theatre filled with energy, lust and, of course, blood. You know the story. The Count is stuck out there in Transylvania where there hasn't been a blood drive in 100 years or so, and as he puts it, "I'm starving here--for companionship." So he solicits the help of a guileless solicitor, Mr. Harker, to teach him the ways of gentlemen in London and secure for him a piece of property where he can thrive on the throngs of humanity.
Renfield, Dracula's not-so-loyal servant, awaits his arrival in London. Renfield has been driven to insanity by the curse of immortality and the toying of his master. He resides at the local lunatic asylum run by Dr. Seward. He is comically, wonderfully mad and easily the most entertaining and intriguing character in the play (or maybe I'm just drawn to madness). He scurries about his little cell chomping on spiders and flies (courtesy of Dracula), licking himself clean like a cat, and ranting in a remarkably sane way. When Dr. Seward asks him why he eats the spider, he replies, "I like animals."
Dr. Seward and Mr. Harker have fallen for the charms of the lovely Lucy and Mina, respectively, but the beauty of the ladies also attracts the attention of Count Dracula, and the mystery-shrouded secrecy begins.
Dietz claims loyalty to Stoker's Gothic novel published in 1897 (although much of the play was reminiscent of Francis Ford Coppola's movie version). In his playnotes, Dietz says he resisted attempts to join friends in the "esoteric aerobics" of determining what the character represents by digging out every possible metaphor for Dracula. "The question is not what Dracula represents," Dietz writes, "but what he is: a brilliant, seductive, fanged beast waiting to suck the blood from your throat." Kudos to Dietz for taking this approach. The result is a sharply written, tantalizing fantasy of seduction and immortality.
Dietz's keen, and often comic, dialogue is executed beautifully by a first-rate cast led by Patrick Page in the title role. At first appearance, Page is nothing special in the role, but when he begins to make demands in that deep, commanding voice, there isn't a red-blooded woman around that wouldn't offer her neck. His short scenes of Lucy's seduction are maximized by his dark, wicked charm. And assisted by a splendid make-up job, Page easily transforms into the ancient Count, hissing each terrifying line.
Suzanne Bouchard, an ATC regular, plays Lucy. Since Bouchard's acting borders on being melodramatic, this role is perfect for her. Britt Sady is enchanting as Mina, although her scenes with Dracula lack the lustiness of Dracula's prior scenes with Lucy. David Ellenstein (Harker), Benjamin Livingston (Seward), and Peter Silbert (Van Helsing) all deliver fine performances. But easily the most riveting and entertaining offering came from David Pichette in the demented role of Renfield. I'll just say he was convincingly mad.
Director David Ira Goldstein (ATC's artistic director) elects to take some risks with this production, and they pay off. He doesn't back away from the vulgarity inherent in the material, and the play is better for it. He's also chosen to enhance the production with a number of special effects. Although the suspended wine glass almost backfired on him on opening night, the rest were executed perfectly, at least to this untrained eye.
A dreary, macabre scenic design by Bill Forrester, combined with Don Darnutzer's lighting and Jeff Ladman's sound gave the production a magnificently horrifying quality.
Arizona Theatre Company's production of Dracula continues through April 15 with performances Tuesday through Sunday at the Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave. Tickets range from $17 to $26. Call 622-2823 for show times and reservations. For information, call 8844877.
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