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
Actors Theatre of Louisville's never-ending yearly tradition of
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
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
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.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 jshla.com