Stage Fright


Written by Ted Tiller

Directed by Jed Weintrob

At the Leverett House Old Library

Through this weekend


FALL has come, and the mosquitoes have started to die, but the time for bloodsucking has not yet passed. If you missed the itches and welts of summer, you can still get a tingle this weekend at the Leverett House Old Library. The experience will leave you bump-free, if bored. To get a taste of the action, all you need do is attend a performance of Dracula.

The play is based on the book based on the myth of a medieval count who made a pastime of impaling women. It's an exciting story, one that has captivated generations of moviegoers, but as a play it has some problems. Plot is clearly not among them, but form certainly is. The Leverett House production has an uninspired script and acting that adds no spice to it.

If any play requires what Coleridge termed "suspension of disbelief," it has to be Dracula. Getting an audience to believe in a blood-sucking, half-dead character is not easy in 1988, especially not among rational Harvard students. And the Leverett House production does little to help.

Whatever happens on stage, it is always clear that this is theater--there's no pretention that the events are real. Most of the performers seem more to be going through a bizarre ritual called theater than actually imitating real people. Lengthy scene changes remind the audience that they are watching a spectacle, and a pretty uninspiring one, too.

On the whole, the acting is phlegmatic. Jeremy C. Miller plays Dr. Seward, the manager of a small sanitorium outside New York City. But Miller hardly commands the authority one would expect in such a role. He occassionally stumbles on lines, and since he acts as if he were asleep, it is a wonder that he does not stumble across the stage as well.

His assistant Hennesey, played by Gordon W.F. Vidaver, provides him little help. The way Miller and Vidaver play their parts, it is easy to understand how a particular mentally ill inmate can escape his cell so often.

And it is a good thing he does. Peter Hirsch, who plays the batty resident named Renfield, yields the best performance in the play. While his ranting and raving are exaggerated, there is life, even wit, in the violence of his acting. And his eyes glow with pleasure when he describes a feast of flies, spiders and cockroaches.

RENFIELD might make an interesting case for Abigail van Helsing, the doctor called in by Dr. Seward to solve his sister's mysterious illness. Of course, she immediately realizes that the illness is caused by a vampire.

Both the audience and the other characters disbelieve her at first, but that does not faze the Dutch specialist. Andra Gordon plays this pipe-toting Freudian with the zeal of a religious fanatic--and, thankfully, without a phony accent.

Dracula, however, just would not be the same without a classic Transylvania drawl. Tom Hale has mastered this but somehow denuded it of his coldness. Despite the cape, he would not be out of place at an international students' party. Still, there is some bite in his performance, which improves steadily as the play goes on.

Tanya Selvaratnam makes a fine assistant to Dr. Seward, but given her accent and appearance, director Jed Weintrob probably should have changed her character's name to something slightly less Anglo-Saxon than Wesley.

In fact, it seems that Weintrob did little to this play beyond building a utilitarian set, changing the play's locale to the United States (though the heaths of England added more to the intrigue of the story) and changing the famous line "I never" to "I never drink...socially." Of course, the last of these alterations is probably playwright Ted Tiller's fault, but whoever's fault it is, the change underscores the effect of the whole play--an old story told in a tired way.

But despite its bugaboos, this production of Dracula is, on the whole, enjoyable. So cross your fingers, wear some garlic and slink down to Leverett House.