The movies always have trouble getting Dracula right. The book was an epistolary novel composed of first person journal entries and personal accounts of the civilized men and women who discovered and fought Count Dracula. This mosaic of narrative voices formed an exceptional work of literature, but it has been tricky to bring it to films where audiences expect a clear narrative perspective. But what has always given filmmakers trouble actually works in favor of a radio drama. This is one of the reasons the live radio-style stage adaptation of Dracula by Radiotheater works so well.
This adaptation (By Dan Bianchi based on the Orson Welles version) follows the book quite closely. Count Dracula is not the charming, sexy, exotic man who film directors seem to think he is. Here, portrayed by Patrick Halloran he is a creepy outsider and an inhuman abomination. Fans of the book will appreciate the loyalty to the original text, and audiences who only know Dracula from the modern “Bursts into flame at dawn” interpretations will find it to be an informative exploration of a story that has suffered from a century of “adaptation decay”.
There have been some cuts in order to make it fit into an intermission-less running time. Dracula’s enthralled henchman, Renfield, isn’t present and neither is Lucy’s pack of suitors. The most important sequences from Bram Stoker’s novel are still there though, including the chilling monologue from the Captain of the S.S. Demeter, the doomed ship that unknowingly brings Dracula to England. Joshua Nicholson portrays the Captain in a sequence that will thrill horror fans.
In the trademark style of Radiotheater, Dracula is performed by seated actors on a stage ornamented only with a large poster of Bela Lughosi upstage, and a steamer trunk stage center (Which cleverly conceals some special effects equipment). Frank Zilinyi narrates the story, filling in the gaps where the spoken dialog fails to set the scene. Lighting effects are used sparingly, along with the occasional puff of fog from a smoke machine.
The sound design is of special importance in this form of theater. Spooky music (By Dan Bianchi) provides a classic horror flick feel to the performance. As with old-time radio, sound effects take the place of props so the performers mime the use of guns while gunshots play offstage. This lets the audience use their imagination during the violent a gruesome scenes.
Although it’s a horror show Dracula is still kid-friendly. Parents looking to teach the young’uns how vampires used to be before Twilight and Vampire Diaries can introduce their children to the grand daddy of them all, and it also provides an educational experience on how people entertained themselves in the days before these new-fangled televisions.
It’s scary but not gory, and the matinée showtimes make it a suitable Halloween treat for theater-going families. Grown-ups who enjoy old-time radio will appreciate it on an entirely different level. Radiotheater’s production of Dracula plays Sunday afternoons only now through November 10th on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Tickets and more are available at www.radiotheatrenyc.com.