Regional Reviews: San Francisco
David Drake Shows Great Acting Skills in Son of Drakula
Also see Richard's review of The Sex Habits Of American Women
The New Conservatory Theatre Center and David Drake are presenting the West Coast premiere Son of Drakula. The 90 minute no intermission solo piece is written and performed by veteran actor David Drake. The play runs through October 26 in the large theater of the NCTC. Daid is best known for his previous one man show, The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me, which ran for a year Off Broadway. He also starred in the feature film version of Larry Kramer as well as many other films, including Longtime Companion and Philadelphia.
Son of Drakula is an inventive autobiographical one man show based on David's search for identity, given his real name, David Drakula. This is not a camp version of Dracula as portrayed by Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee or Gary Oldman. There are no flying bats, blood sucking or vampire teeth. It is one man's quest to unearth the tangled roots of his birthname.
After her divorce from his father, David's mother said "Thank God, I am no longer a Drakula," and told her son to become David Drake. However, the actor always had a fascination about the genealogy of the Drakula name. Was he a descendant of the historical Prince of Wallachia who, in the 1400s, was called Vlad "the Impaler" Dracula and impaled over 50,000 persons during his reign? I must confess that I have always been intrigued by both the Hollywood and the historical Dracula, and I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Bela Lugosi just before his death.
After years of research, in the spring of 2001, David decided to write Son of Drakula after attending the World Dracula Congress in the place where the real prince had lived (Sighisoara, Transylvania). The first presentation of the new work was at Theatre Project in Baltimore in May 2002. It was a work in progress and was over two and a half hours long. It needed serious pruning.
The piece was rewritten and shortened considerable for its New York showing at the Dance Theatre Workshop in Chelsea, where it got good reviews from The Village Voice and The New York Times. David took the play to Anchorage, Alaska, where he did further work on the piece. In San Francisco, he informed me that he had just done more cutting and had rewritten the ending for opening night. It is now a 90 minute no intermission piece. Many of the characters have been dropped from the original New York and Baltimore versions.
David Drake plays exceptionally well all of the 25 characters we meet during the show. Many of the characters sport Romanian, Croatian and other ethnic accents, and he does these accents amazingly. The plot starts at JFK airport as he is taking his trip to the Dracula conference. David has to convince the Hungarian ticket agent that, although his passport says David Drakula and his airline ticket says David Drake, they are one and the same person. This is a very humorous start for the show as he portrays the Hungarian woman with a combination New York/Hungarian accent.
The Dracula Conference in Transylvania scene displays the versatility of the actor as he portrays many of the speakers who discuss the historical prince. There is even a young fey student from Alabama giving a speech on the possible homosexuality of Bram Stoker, the author of "Dracula." ("All that sucking must mean something to a gay man.") Sometimes, David distracts from the real story by talking about his relationships with his mother and father. He even takes on their roles, and it tends to be confusing, since these scenes enter rapidly. It almost seems that these parent scenes could make a separate piece for the artist in a future production.
David's description of the ruins of the Vlad Dracula castle is beautifully told, and one can visualize the 1001 narrow circular steps and the swinging wooden bridge at the top as he describes them. The latter part of the program depicts him visiting his Serbo Croat relatives in Croatia. He takes on the character of each relative, and these are perfectly done, even with various accents.
Son of Dracula is still a play in progress and it could stand a little trimming here and there. Some of the characters, such as the Croat relatives, could stand stronger definition and Drake covers quite a lot of ground in the 90 minute period. There is enough there for three separate shows.
The set and lighting are very interesting, since it is essentially a bare stage with boxes that are moved about. The lighting comes from ceiling flood lamps that project square colored lights onto the floor of the stage. The colors change to suit the mood of each particular piece. The only minor flaw comes at the beginning, before the artist enters the stage, and the sound of "spooky" music is blaring from speakers much too loudly for the small theater. This goes on for at least 15 minutes prior to the performance.
Son of Drakula runs through October 26 at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco. Tickets are available at NCTC box office at 415-861-8972 or on line at www.nctcsf.org . Charles