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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

Lorenzo Lamas Packs 'Em In as Dracula

Also see Bob's review of Wonder of the World

Dracula
Lorenzo Lamas and Amy Rutberg
Premiere Stages occupies a large venue at the Wilkins Theatre on the campus of Kean University and, with its usual presentation of largely new plays with Equity actors more remarkable for their talent than name recognition, its capacity has proven to be larger than required for its audience. However, for the short run (ending this Sunday, November 3) of Steven Dietz's adaptation of Dracula, Premiere Stages is drawing nearly full, and pretty enthusiastic, houses, thanks to the appearance of the well known Lorenzo Lamas in the title role. Hopefully, many of the first timers at the Wilkins will return for future Premiere Stage productions.

Dietz's new adaptation of Dracula admirably follows Bram Stoker's novel far more closely than the better known Hamilton Deane-John J. Balderston 1927 adaptation which was last revived on Broadway in 1977. The latter ran for more than two years largely due to the deliciously sensual performance of Frank Langella as the Count. However, the 1927 adaptation is an oversimplification of the Stoker novel which, among other changes, combines the characters of Dracula's victims Mina (the fiancêe of Jonathan Harker who rescues him from Transylvania) and her friend Lucy (the object of the affections of Dr. Seward, who runs the sanitarium where Dracula acolyte Renfield is held), and eliminates the ghastly "brides" of Dracula.

Yet Dietz's new adaptation as presented here is sometimes difficult to follow as it emulates the complicated structure of the novel, largely narrated through the journals of different characters, and flashes backward and then forward in time. Additionally, the story plunges abruptly from event to event in dramatically unsatisfying fashion. There is also uncertainty as to tone in the performance. Some of the dialogue is risible, yet the acting and direction seem to be deadly earnest. While I appreciate not being winked at all evening, I would have liked some indication that the cast and director John Wooten were in on the apparent humor implicit here. Certainly, there is much humor in the quick and simple manner in which Dracula is easily dispatched, making one wonder why he was not disposed of much earlier.

Another problem with this Dracula is that it keeps the title character off stage for much of the evening. Accept for a single, literally flash, appearance, Count Dracula does not appear until more than thirty minutes into the action. Perhaps author Dietz could expand the title role a bit by assigning the prologue (now performed by Renfield) to the Count. The still boyish looking Lorenzo Lamas strives earnestly to be both seductive and menacing, but his inexperience as a stage actor is all too apparent.

Stalwart performances from Alan Coates (Van Helsing), Nathan Blew (Harker), and Matthew DeCapua (Seward), and appealing performances by Jordan Simmons (Mina) and Amy Rutberg (Lucy) carry much of the evening along in reasonably pleasant fashion. This may sound like an anomaly in view of the horrid events depicted here, but, excepting the very young and impressionable, there isn't anything in this version of Dracula that audiences could be expected to take seriously.

Gary Littman, who was outstanding a while back in Sight Unseen at NJ's Centenary Stage, is too intensely serious in the role of the insane insect and rodent eater Renfield. After all, Dietz makes it clear that he wants us to have fun with Renfield when he assigns the prologue to him, and has him say:

Bram Stoker ... a young man who like all young men fell in with the crowd. Yes, that crowd, that theatre crowd, and a young Bram entered that theatrical profession in as low and base a manner as anyone could, as a critic.

The large and nook and cranny filled unit set has been well designed by Joseph M. Gourley and evocatively lit by Brant Thomas Murray. The appropriate costumes are the work of Devon Painter.

Dracula opened cold without any preview performances. Once director John Wooten gets his cast, including the game Lorenzo Lamas, to relax a bit, their Dracula will provide some campy fun for those drawn to see the erstwhile heartthrob of television's "Falcon Crest."

Dracula continues performances (Wednesday and Saturday 2 & 8 p.m./Thursday - Friday 8 p.m./Sun. 2 p.m.) through November 3, 2007 at Premiere Stages, in residence at the Wilkins Theatre at Kean University, 1000 Morris Ave., Union, NJ. 07083, Box Office: 908-737-SHOW (7469); online: www.kean.edu/premierestages.

Dracula adapted by Steven Dietz from the novel by Bram Stoker; directed by John Wooten

Cast (in order of appearance):
Renfield…………………..Gary Littman
Mina…………………..Jordan Simmons
Lucy……………………….Amy Rutberg
Harker……………………..Nathan Blew
Maid/Vixen………………Lauren Bauer
Seward……………..Matthew Decapua
Attendants…rob Marnell, Jon Hoche
……………………………...Robert Cole
Dracula…………………Lorenzo Lamas
Van Helsing………………..Alan Coates
Vixen/Attendant……………..Erika Smith


Photo: Dave Maulbeck


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- Bob Rendell



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