You don’t need to have been to Transylvania to know that one way to kill vampires is with a stake through the heart. In “Dracula, a Comedy of Terrors,” a gender-bending play at New World Stages, Dr. Van Helsing calls for a “shtick” to slay her greatest foe. Or at least that’s what “stake” sounds like after it’s been mauled by Arnie Burton’s German-accented, female Van Helsing.
That Van Helsing deploys (a) shtick to slay her opponent sums up the mode of this “Dracula,” which actually aims to be funny. It’s a refreshing change from all the stage bloodsuckers that have unintentionally made us laugh over the decades, whether they attempted to sing (“Dance of the Vampires,” “Lestat”) or not (cheap props and woeful ponytails made an Off Broadway “Dracula” from 2011 one of the most hilariously inept spectacles I have ever been lucky enough to catch at a supposedly professional theater).
Even better is that this production — not quite enough, but often — fulfills its mission.
The play, by Gordon Greenberg and Steve Rosen and directed by Greenberg, had a starry audio version in 2020, processing the well-known gallery of characters through influences like “The Rocky Horror Show” and “Young Frankenstein.” Dracula (James Daly) is now a Frank-N-Furter-like equal-opportunity seducer whose manly chest is encased in what looks like a black see-through doily. (Tristan Raines did the costume design.) Naturally, the vampire proceeds to help the meek real estate broker Jonathan Harker (Andrew Keenan-Bolger) and his fiancée, Lucy (Jordan Boatman), shake off their Victorian hangups — strong Brad and Janet vibes there.
As if this setup weren’t enough indication that the play pays no mind to the “terrors” part of its title, Greenberg’s staging constantly draws attention to farcical, fourth-wall-breaking devices. The sound designer, Victoria Deiorio, for example, is called upon to deploy effects shamelessly (clip-clopping horses never get old), and except for Daly, who shticks to Dracula, the other cast members constantly switch roles, regardless of the character’s gender.
The most adept at this exercise is Burton, an expert ham who portrays both Van Helsing and Lucy’s sex-starved sister, Mina (“I got all the recessive genes”), as if they had escaped from a Ridiculous Theatrical Company production. A close second is Ellen Harvey as Dracula’s little helper, Renfield, and the siblings’ father, Dr. Wallace Westfeldt. At the performance I attended, Harvey landed the single biggest laugh when she shifted from one character to another in a single scream.
For the show to really work, it needs more moments like that one: simple, goofy and fast. That last quality is important in farce, but unfortunately, in this case, the second half of the evening drags a bit. Some scenes even slow down enough to suggest … emotions? In this context, that’s just like garlic to a vampire.
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