August 29, 2009

Last week I talked about plays that have been run into the ground by being put on too often by too many companies. Some - very few - plays have such eternal mythic resonance that they can stand to be endlessly recapitulated; Shakespeare's Macbeth and Rodgers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma come to mind. Most plays, however, do not.

Actors Theatre of Louisville's never-ending yearly tradition of staging Dracula is another good example. Though the Dracula story itself is certainly drenched in that eternal mythic resonance I spoke of, it's never impressed me as a play. Stoker's story is really more about the deranged, fly-eating Renfield than it is about Count Dracula, and aside from a couple of sexy scenes where the women are running around in their nighties, it's actually a very talky, actionless story. It's filled with plodding, deadly dull scenes of men pacing around uttering dry "harrrumph, now see here, doctor, surely you don't mean to suggest...." dialogue. No amount of lightning, strobes, smoke and spooky music can dress that up sufficiently.

So, ATL, I beg of you - with the vast menu of scary stories out there, from the antiquated gore-fests of The Grand Guignol to the modern trend of "zombie theatre" that's fast on its way to become a genre unto itself, can we please, finally, at last, stop flogging the (un)dead horse that is Dracula?

Some modest proposals for replacing ATL's "token Halloween" play:

  • Some other vampire story - The original Stoker story isn't the only Dracula story out there, and Dracula isn't the only vampire. How about an adaptation of an Anne Rice novel, or some new original play deliberately designed to cash in on the current craze over Twilight and True Blood?

  • Sweeney Todd - I know, I know, the great thing about Dracula was that he's public domain, whereas Sweeney costs money. But Sondheim's classic horror-musical has even greater cache now that Tim Burton's film version was a mega-hit, and could definitely stand up to yearly resurrection. A touring production with the great Judy Kaye briefly passed through this burg almost two years ago and did boffo box-o.

  • Frankenstein - I understand that a shambling hulk made of stitched-together corpse parts just isn't as sexy as a vampire, but hell, do you wanna scare people or don't you? Frankenstein is the ultimate horror story of our times, and like Drac, he's public domain.

  • Young Frankenstein - Mel Brooks' brilliant horror-comedy closed on Broadway this year, so presumably the rights are now available. Or, you could just bring the touring company here.

  • Werewolves - I don't know of any plays that feature werewolves, but hey, somebody can go write one (I'm available, and I'm cheap). Seems to me that the Wolfman, once a standard monster in the horror canon, has gotten short shrift in recent years. Let's make lycanthropy a household word again.

  • The Phantom of the Opera - No, not the overblown Andrew Lloyd Webber musical mess, but the REAL phantom, the original 1909 Gaston Leroux serial that is public domain and ripe for a no-nonsense back-to-basics restoration to the true dark horror-romance it was meant to be. For an extra twist, it could be reset to take place in Louisville.

  • Psychological thrillers - Horror doesn't have to be, as Bela Lugosi once put it, "all makeup and grunting". How about a horrific thriller that gets its juice from the anatomy of the human mind, rather than supernatural monsters with fangs? There are plenty of exciting plays in this genre, not to mention the prospect of adapting the wealth of Psycho-biddy films to the stage.

    The possibilities for engaging and powerful theatrical horror are endless, people. Let's let Count Dracula - who actually elicits more laughter from audiences than gasps - finally fold up his arms and go to sleep in his coffin for the final time.

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    Jeffrey Scott Holland is the Artistic Director for Catclaw Theatre Company, author of Weird Kentucky on Sterling Press, and painter whose works have been exhibited worldwide. Visit him on the web at .