Sunday, August 3, 2003

NKU cast turns 'Dracula' into laughs

Theater review

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Dracula: The Untold Story is a world premiere for Northern Kentucky University's summer dinner theater series, a spoof by Mary Lynn Dobson of the iconic vampire tale. It may be short on special effects, but it's chock-full of easy-on-the-brain summertime comedy.

Fans of NKU theater likely will remember Dobson's agreeable Two on the Aisle, Three in a Van send-up of summer theater from the 1999 Y.E.S. New Play Festival. Dracula: The Untold Story is another comedy that would fit snugly in a straw-hat slot, especially because it requires only a drawing room set. (The heroes go looking for Dracula's coffin offstage.) It's not fated for the big time, but it's likely to have a warm-weather future.

Dobson plays with the traditional story early. Things begin with the requisite howling wolf and mist floating in from the veranda of the Seward Sanitorium, but in The Untold Story, it's the 1920s, and Lucy Seward (Kelly Eviston) has been engaged to Jonathan Harker (George Alexander) for 20 years as Count D. moves into the neighborhood.

Indifferent fiance Harker is a mama's boy and a stooge, and he looks sadly dumpy in his boring sweater and argyles.

Small wonder Lucy is no more eager than he to head for the altar, particularly since her many hobbies about the estate are apparently best described in the pages of bodice-rippers and have to do with energetic forms of exercise with grooms and gardeners.

Dracula (Steven Crawford) is, as ever, in pursuit of Lucy. Her fond brother (Chuck Haungs providing sane support) calls vampire hunter Professor Van Helsing (Mike King, who also directs) to the scene, and away we go.

Dobson's taste for comedy ranges from high to low (double entendres abound), and her dialogue is filled with contemporary idiom for extra laughs.

The playwright experiments with screwball comedy (a great screen genre all but lost today) that combines smart banter and physical comedy. Nailing this isn't easy, but the company tricks us into thinking it is, so accolades to King.

Eviston has the comedy's showiest role as poor Lucy, who is quite enjoying the attentions of her sexy villain. She struggles between the forces of good and evil - not all that easy since her only reward for taking the high road is Harker. She is great fun (although her glowing tan doesn't suggest a woman suffering acute loss of blood), and she gets to wear some swell gowns.

I've never seen Alexander in a full-out comedy role, and this is a delightful departure. He makes Harker deliciously petulant and dim and looks like a natural handling the show's physical comedy. He and Eviston are the summer's best dysfunctional stage couple.

While Harker does a fine job of lousing up everything for the good guys, Dracula has problems of his own. Apparently, his trick of mind control works best when the subjects have minds to begin with.

Emily Hyberger delivers some funny bits as a stoop-shouldered, squinting nurse who has trouble remembering what she has to forget.

And then there's Dracula's mad henchman Renfield (David Scott Morgan), whose taste for insects has expanded far beyond flies and who is feeling conflicted about whose side he's on.

Morgan is blissfully demented as Renfield and does an exemplary job of dancing along the edges of the play's comedic shifts.

Dracula: The Untold Story would be even better with a more uniformly talented cast and its Gothic underpinnings more sharply in focus.

Crawford is a weak link as Dracula. Comedy or no, he still needs to be dangerous.

Dracula: The Untold Story is virtually sold out. Best bet for finding a ticket is to call the box office day of show and check for cancellations.

Dracula: The Untold Story, through Aug. 10, Summer Dinner Theatre, Northern Kentucky University (859) 572-5464.


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