Dallas — Bram Stoker’s 1897 gothic novel about a Transylvanian vampire’s toothy encounter with a sexually impotent lawyer and his adventurous wife Mina has inspired a bouquet of blood-red adaptations on the stage and screen, and led to an obsession with vampire lore that, more than a century later, is still going strong.
Now Stoker’s Dracula appears in a two-act, female-orgasm-first version, written by Michael Federico, conceived by Federico and Christie Vela with an emphasis on the Romanian setting. It’s directed by Vela at Theatre Three, where she is the recently appointed associate artistic director. Here, Count Dracula, as portrayed by a stylish Allison Pistorius, is a sex-thirsty force of nature who strides restlessly across the ramp of her castle, and puts the “vamp” in vampire, as she battles her scientific nemesis and a script that runs over two hours and 30 minutes.
This Dracula, whether outfitted in red-and-black gowns or black Hillary-inspired suits, is pleased to sink her manicured nails and fierce fangs into the tender necks of male and female, alike. She makes short shrift of the young, handsome solicitor Jonathan Harker (Ian Mead Moore), telling him in her heavy Transylvanian accent, “Meester Hart-air, you vare geevin a joyce...” and so on. Drac has her sights set on his bride-to-be Mina Murray (Natalie Young, playing the role with brazen curiosity), but this not-so-chaste and loyal fiancée is super sweet on her best friend, the easily seduced Lucy Westenra (Natalie Hope Johnson). When juicy, scrumptious Lucy disappears, Mina is lured into the search to find out why.
Meanwhile back on Theatre Three’s four-sided arena stage, where set designer Jeffrey Schmidt has set up castle stairs on the west corner and a plank for lunatics to air their grievances on the east corner, Lucy’s dull fiancé (a no-nonsense Josh Bangle in one of several roles) experiments with the insane. One of the delights of the sometimes-confusing plot is the appearance of the inmate Renfield, played by the hilarious, touching and compelling Paul T. Taylor. Each time he crawls or runs onto the bridge-like platform and begs for a kitten to eat, the play comes alive with a special sort of nuttiness I associate with genius or lunacy. Is he Dracula’s slave? Is he a brilliant, broken poet? Taylor’s Renfield is part Caliban, part pet ghoul, and entirely persuasive.
The first act, which runs 75 minutes, gets bogged down with gratuitous scenes of ship crews attacked and murdered and more bloody neck-biting and throat-slashing. A Texas cowboy is marched into the 19th century story, armed only with a drawl and a Bowie knife. Some stuff is more on point. White-clad nymphs descend on an astonished visitor to the castle with the sudden drop of a curtain from on high to save our witnessing too much blood — after all, one of the story’s themes is about women who menstruate and their eagerness to be swept away. John M. Flores’ eerie sound design features howls in the distance and other menacing noises to accompany the playful horror.
When we return for the second act, the fun picks up with the appearance of Professor Anneliese Van Helsing, in the wildly compelling person of Gloria Vivica Benavides. Bristling with scientific certainty and the smell of the hunt, Benavides’ professor swirls the action into focus. Destroy the vampire Dracula! Save the maidens! Or would that be save them from ecstatic sexual gratification? The search is afoot and who’s not on the side of this monster slayer in her leather vest and heavy-duty utility belt, equipped with knives and silver bullets and other potent vampire deterrents. Costume designer Holly Hill, wrapping the other ladies and gents in swaths of period taffetas and tweeds, outdoes herself with this armored heroine.
Benavides, a first-rate actress, has a ball as she lifts us into the chase to banish evil forever. But will she? Can even this smart-ass, all-knowing and endearing scientist rid humankind of the sexual fantasy to be carried away?
You’ll have a great time finding out where it goes. But a word of caution: Avoid seats on the west side of T3’s in-the-round space. Actors mostly face the east-side seating, and struggle to turn all the way around in a single speech. North and south seating works, unless you’re seated right under a ramp where some of the action takes place, and you must strain your neck straight up to see the show.
In this story, exposing the neck is not so wise.