Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Road to "Stoker's Dracula" Part 1

 This is the first part of a series about how I came to write and perform "Stoker's Dracula," which is coming to Curio Theatre Company October 26 and 27 at 10:30pm, and October 30 and 31 at 8pm.

I have always been fascinated with Bram Stoker's "Dracula."  I first picked up the novel when I was about eight years old.  I got about halfway through the book then, up to the point when the stake is driven through Lucy's heart.  It's a graphic, bloody, and disturbing scene, and it was all the terror I could stand at that age.  I stopped reading.  I still have my first copy of "Dracula," and on the back cover there is a blurb that scared me almost as much as the words inside:

"The reader is warned that he who enters Castle Dracula may not escape its baleful spell, even when he closes this book."

It was right.  I've been caught in the spell of Stoker's masterpiece ever since.

Eventually I worked up the courage to finish reading the book, and over the years I sought out every film version of "Dracula" that I could get my hands on.  I became obsessed with it.  I have a few that I love very much.  The original silent "Nosferatu" feels like a documentary to me.  It feels like it really is Dracula's castle, and Max Schreck embodies the Count more than any other actor ever has or will.  I try to base my physicality for the character of Dracula on Schreck's performance, because he just stands still and scares you to death.

Bela Lugosi's performance is equally iconic, and the thing he really created was Dracula's voice.  When anyone decides to imitate Dracula, it's Lugosi's unique vocal inflections that come out.  For most people, Lugosi simply is Count Dracula.

Werner Herzog's 1979 remake "Nosferatu the Vampyre" has a terrifying atmosphere that starts with the opening credits: a slow pan along a cavern with hundreds of dried up mummies of men, women, and children, their mouths open in silent screams.  I always imaged there was a room in Dracula's castle like that, and seeing it on screen was eerie beyond belief.

I think Francis Ford Coppola's 1992 "Dracula" is the most faithful (for the first half anyway), restoring a lot of the novel's text and structure.  I also have a soft spot for Gary Oldman's performance as the ancient Dracula.  He gets closer to the complexity of the character than anyone else.

And if you love Dracula, how can you not find "Dracula: Dead and Loving It" hilarious?  The cast includes Leslie Nielson, Peter MacNicol, Mel Brooks, Harvey Korman, and the movie is worth seeing for Anne Bancroft's gypsy woman cameo alone.

But in all the movies and plays I devoured, I never found a Dracula that lived up to what I saw in my imagination when I read it. 

I started working with Curio in 2008, when I played K in "The Trial," directed by Jared Reed.  The following season I was in Conor McPherson's "The Weir," which is one of the best scripts I've ever worked on.  It was all about storytelling, especially telling ghost stories (I've also been a tour guide for the Ghost Tour of Philadelphia for six years).  The next show after "The Weir" was Jared Reed's one man version of "A Christmas Carol."

It was brutally cold the night I went and there weren't very many people in the audience.  And it remains one of the best pieces of theatre I've ever seen.  I was captivated by the idea of one person telling the audience a great story, allowing you to use your imagination to fill in the blanks while seeing the author's actual words skillfully interpreted.  Jared's performance took a story I thought I knew and made me see it with new eyes, and see it much deeper and more honestly than I ever had before.  It kind of changed my life in some ways.  It made me discover a passion I didn't even know was there.

As I made my way home from that performance, I kept thinking "I want to do that.  That is exactly the kind of work I want to do."

Around the time I started working for Curio I also began creating a Victorian theater program at the Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion in Germantown.  It's an amazing house to do theatre in, beautifully restored and also a gem of a museum.  We have a Dickens Christmas Party event every December, and I proposed doing my own one man version of "A Christmas Carol."  My adaptation is different from Curio's, it is more of an abridged version for one thing.  I can never forget Jared's performance, but I feel like I made it my own.  It was received very well, and I'll be performing my adaptation for the third year in a row this December.  I love telling that story so much.

But it got me to thinking.  I discovered that I loved being a solo performer, and I wanted to do another project.

Then I remembered "Dracula."

To be continued . . .

No comments: