Don’t be fooled by the script in Actors Theatre of Louisville’s production of Dracula; it would have you believe that Count Dracula’s enemy is the vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing. But that’s a bloody lie. Van Helsing may be the nemesis of Dracula, the character, but Dracula, the play, has a rogues gallery all its own. There’s Edward Cullen, the vampire-in-love from the Twilight series. Don’t forget Blacula. Or Sesame Street’s Count Von Count, or any of the thousands of other incarnations of the vampire that the play’s audience has seen and may be thinking of as they take their seats and wait for the lights to go down.
Actors Theatre, of course, has been producing Dracula every year since 1995. Writer/director William McNulty and the cast and crew wash the audience’s palate clean with blood. Dracula opens with a bloody, scream-filled murder scene that communicates to patrons in no uncertain terms that anyone resembling Count Chocula has left the building.
Dracula is straight horror and melodrama that is light on irony and heavy on action. Thigh-high stone walls ring the set. In one scene, the actors leap from wall to wall, landing inches from the audience in the front row. There is plenty of fighting and biting, though perhaps the most chilling moment in the whole production is when Mr. Briggs (Nick Vannoy) dangles a live rat in his own mouth.
This year’s Dracula (Rufio Lerma) offers a gentleman vampire who seems to enjoy the process of seducing of his victims as much as the conquests themselves. This Dracula is a vision of masculinity carried to its darkest extremes: Intimidating and violent to other men, calculatingly charming to women until he turns on them. (It’s worth noting that Dracula does have male victims, but none of their deaths involve any element of seduction.)
Dracula isn’t entirely without humor. The asylum inmate Renfield (Alex Morf), when he’s not eating flies, provides comic relief and there are some lines that are clearly winks at the audience. Before Dracula’s identity is revealed to the other characters, he declares, “I have an absolute hunger for people.”
McNulty, who also plays Van Helsing in the play, based his script on the 1897 Bram Stoker novel and a stage adaptation written in the 1920s. McNulty wrote this version of Dracula for Actors Theatre in 2007.
In its first two years, McNulty’s script was produced four times (including twice at Actors.) Then, in late 2008, the first film in the Twilight saga debuted, as did the HBO series True Blood. Since then, McNulty’s Dracula has seen 65 productions in the U.S. and abroad. The play is extremely popular in high schools and has even been translated into Cantonese for a production in China.
Apparently, even after many years and visions and versions of vampires, people are still hungry for Dracula, too.