Friday, October 15, 2010

This N.C. Weekend: Brides of Dracula

Two shows open this weekend--M. Butterfly at HSU and Brides of Dracula at Ferndale Rep. I preview M. Butterfly (which I've now seen--an excellent production) in the post below. In this post I preview Brides of Dracula, expanded from my NC Journal column. It opens tonight.

The currently popular vampire genre has a long history that began in the sunny Swiss summer of 1816, with a group of young visitors: the Shelleys (Percy Bysshe and Mary, and Mary’s sister Claire), Lord Byron and his secretary, John Polidori. There was sexual tension amidst the forays into nature and the literary and scientific talk: Polidori had a crush on Mary, while Claire was pursuing Byron, and would eventually have a child by him. One night as thunderstorms broke a spate of oppressive weather, Lord Byron challenged them all to write a ghost story. The most famous outcome was eventually Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. But another begun that night would result in The Vampyre, the first vampire story written in English and the first to center on a Dracula-like figure, suggested by Byron but written by Polidori.

Its more famous literary descendant at the end of the century was Dracula, by theatre business manager and pulp novelist Bram Stoker. Stoker’s hopes for a stage version starring his friend Sir Henry Irving were never realized, but various 20th century movie versions made Dracula a cultural icon ever since.

In considering the Stoker novel David Nyiri became interested in a theme that the movies ignored—the implications of immortality-- and characters that Stoker didn’t develop: namely Dracula’s three brides, who appear only briefly in the novel. “They’ve had hundreds of years of interpersonal history with Dracula,” Nyiri said. “I’m interested in how that drives everything they do.”

But Nyiri still uses the basic Bram Stoker plot. “It’s almost like two versions working simultaneously, where you have the familiar story, but you’re also seeing the offstage incidents and scenes, which are now actually propelling it forward. Also I re-imagined pretty much all the major characters in light of the themes I was trying to put forth.”

The Brides (played by Kyra Gardner, Elena Tessler and Heather Wood) represent failed attempts by Dracula (played by Charlie Heinberg) to find his perfect soulmate--and none of them are happy about it. Nyiri’s play begins when all their “dissatisfactions and disappointments and anger are coming to a head.”

A monster of evil or a master of dark sex, each time Dracula returns with a different emphasis. The current vampire craze focuses on romance, a theme Nyiri traces back to the Frank Langella version on Broadway in the 1970s, when “Dracula was re-imagined as a kind of Byronic figure—more haunted than haunting.” Though his play is in this mold, “I semi-jokingly refer to it as Twilight for intelligent adults.”

Nyiri is not interested in either Hollywood or Halloween caricature. “I’ve told my actors repeatedly, these aren’t monsters—they’re fully dimensional individuals” who are dealing with the search for the perfect partner with which to be happy literally ever after, amidst a basic conundrum: “the tradeoff for potentially an eternity of romantic bliss is that you also have to become a rampant serial killer.”

Nyiri is Ferndale Rep’s resident designer this season, so in addition to writing and directing, he’s designed sets, costumes and lights. Other cast members include Rachel Cardoza, Jeremy Webb, Craig Waldvogel, Steven Carter, Thomas Tucker, Alaina Ross, Devin Galdierie and Danielle Cichon.

Brides of Dracula opens at Ferndale Rep on Friday (Oct. 15) at 8 pm., and plays through October 31 on Friday and Saturday evenings, and Sunday afternoons at 2.

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