nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
January 1, 2011
I had an okay time at the new off-Broadway revival of Dracula. This play, by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston, based of course on Bram Stoker's novel, is exceedingly well-crafted and sturdy; even if you know every detail of the plot—and you probably do—there is still plenty to enjoy and become engaged in as the tale of the Transylvanian Count with the thirst for human blood unfolds. Director Paul Alexander and his collaborators here have definitely eschewed camp, keeping the story rooted in its period (pre-World-War-I London) and mood. Where the production fails to deliver is in the chills and thrills department. They haven't found a way to make this too-familiar horror story authentically horrific, and that is a bit of a disappointment.
Probably a key reason for this is the casting of Michel Altieri in the title role. Altieri is an Italian singer, actor, and recording artist who was discovered and mentored by Pavarotti (as his program bio informs us). This is his American debut, and on the basis of his performance here, it's hard to understand why actors right here in NYC were passed over. Altieri is, after all, bound to be compared with the formidable and in many ways definitive originator of this role, Bela Lugosi. He never achieves the raw freaky malevolence of the master; neither does he make Dracula sexy, the way Frank Langella was said to have done in the famous Broadway revival of the late '70s.
He's overshadowed in every way by the good guys in this production, which is not a great thing. Pros George Hearn and Timothy Jerome head the cast as, respectively, Abraham Van Helsing (Dracula's nemesis) and Dr. Seward, father of Lucy, Dracula's current victim/inamorata. These two offer committed, fully-fleshed out performances that help us believe steadfastly in the vampire legend. Offering fine support is Emily Bridges, who gives us a Lucy who is neither simp nor sexpot, but rather a common-sensical woman who becomes a victim of pure evil. And as Jonathan Harker, Lucy's love interest, Jake Silbermann is stolid and sympathetic.
John Buffalo Mailer makes the most of his role, Renfield; he convinces us that he is an earnest young student who has been hideously transformed by the vampire. His Mr. Hyde side may be a bit over the top, but he definitely provides some of the most exciting elements in the evening. Rounding out the company as the servants are Katharine Luckinbill and Ron O'Hare.
Alexander's direction is competent, but it doesn't induce any gasps or shrieks and there are places, especially during the climax, where it probably should. He's hindered by Dana Kenn's scenic design, which features three sets on a revolve; the rotation just happens too slowly, and through gaps in the joins backstage activity was sometimes clearly discernible from my seat (house left, row D). Costumes by Willa Kim and hair design by Paul Huntley are mostly fine, though the long locks of Altieri's Dracula reminded me of Frank Wildhorn's Jekyll and Hyde, and not in a good way. Special effects by Rick Sordelet and Mike Rossmy are expert, especially a descent down a wall by Renfield; flying is by Foy.
I would have liked to get even a little bit scared at this Dracula, but this revival is ultimately a clear but not at all dangerous or original take on a story that's been told in lots of ways, lots of times, over the decades. It is finally, the one thing that its title character emphatically is not: harmless fun.