Vampires are trendy right now, but they've been around in one form or another — seductive, repellent, take your pick — for centuries, because the idea of a dead creature that maintains some form of vitality by sucking human blood is so resonant and evocative. It's a kind of immortality, after all, and we're just as terrified of death now as the Victorians were. Vampirism also speaks to our fears and ambivalence about sex — though I guess we're less afraid of that than they were. But to keep the trope going, you really have to update.
In the late '90s, Joss Whedon managed to simultaneously mock and celebrate vampire lore with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who was neither a pure and swooning victim nor a sultry sex goddess with one foot in the world of evil herself, but a sunny blond high-schooler gifted with supernatural vampire-fighting powers. In exploring Buffy's dilemma, Whedon redefined heroism, made fun of the entire woman-as-victim theme, and managed to inject humor into a realm that had rarely seen humor before. The BBC's Being Human, which describes the dilemmas of a ghost, vampire and werewolf who share a flat in contemporary Bristol and are desperate to lead normal lives, is another cool and witty take on the vampire phenomenon. True Blood is a hot and sexy one, and the Twilight series exists to feed the fantasies of teenage girls.
Unfortunately, Charles Morey's Dracula is a straightforward rendition of the classic 1897 Bram Stoker novel. This should please scholars and high-school English teachers, but for the rest of us — who know the story backward and forward, too — the show is a bit of a slog. Most of the acting is good, with outstanding performances from Anthony Marble as Dracula and Sofia Jean Gomez as the doomed and vivacious Lucy. Margaret Loesser Robinson does everything possible with virtuous, conventional Mina, and the interest level rises precipitously every time Michael McKenzie's asylum inmate Renfield walks onto the stage.
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Presented by the Denver Center Theatre Company through October 31, Stage Theatre, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 303-893-4100, www.denvercenter.org.
For a while, you can sort of will yourself into being spooked. But we all know where we're going, and those Victorians were a verbose lot. Their obsessed fascination with death and the supernatural, their sense of sex as evil, the way they made connections between Christianity and vampirism, with the vampires' blood drinking seen as an inversion of the Eucharist — we just don't share these frames of reference. Questions about what lies beyond death are unanswerable, and as these authors pushed at the boundaries of the known, thrilling themselves with seances and magical portraits and tales of people being buried alive, their plot lines tended to weaken and the writing got swamped in a soup of portentous words and images — as it does here. It must have been absolutely thrilling when those ancient whisperings about succubi, incubi, malevolent fairies, nocturnal blood-sucking animals and Vlad the Impaler first coalesced into the majestic and terrifying figure of Count Dracula.
But once the man had morphed into Count Chocula and appeared on a dozen kids' cartoon shows, it was all over.