Capsule Stage Reviews: October 16, 2014

Dracula In 1977, the hottest ticket on Broadway was the revival of John Balderston and Hamilton Deane's 1927 adaptation of Bram Stoker's Victorian horror classic Dracula (1897). With its black and white pen-and-ink design by Edward Gorey, a celebrated eccentric artist whose macabre and comic cartoons were as lauded as those by Charles Addams of "Addams Family" fame, the play boasted another revelation: Frank Langella as the 500-year-old Transylvanian count. Brought up knowing only Bela Lugosi's signature portrayal in Tod Browning's movie adaptation — continental, soignee, a bit of a lounge lizard — audiences instead saw a vibrant, sexy bloodsucker with Vegas moves and Clairol hair. Who wouldn't fall under his spell? Langella (and Gorey) made that show succeed, for truth be told, the play is a creaky chestnut, an outright clunker that does Stoker no good at all. Since the Alley opted to revive this revival, using the Gorey designs and the notion of a young, sexy Count, who else in their roster of actors would be more appropriate than Jay Sullivan? (An incandescent John Merrick in The Elephant Man; a spiritual C.S. Lewis in Freud's Last Session; the goofiest of airheads, Spike, in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.) Perfect, no? No. As charismatic onstage as any actor, he is woefully miscast. Unlike Stoker's sharp-toothed vampire, Sullivan has no fangs. Although he swirls a cape like Manolete and fills out Tricia Barsamian's Gorey-esque evening wear handsomely, there's no menace, no great evil, no chill in the air. And no sexy frisson whatsoever. His faux English accent bears no trace of his middle Europe lineage; he's but a stagedoor johnny. He makes one entrance, though, that chills. From behind the sofa where Lucy lies languidly, one hand claws over, then the other. He has prowled from nowhere, an eerie touch indeed. For one exit, he disappears in a rush of fog and explosion like the Wicked Witch of the West. But a complete portrayal is not made of entrances and exits. His character has no character. Even Dracula's most famous line, when he hears the distant howling of the London dogs (poached from Stoker's Transylvanian scene where the wolves are baying), "Listen to them — the children of the night. What music they make!" falls with a thud. No shiver up our spine. Elizabeth Bunch, as damsel in distress Lucy in her sleek bias-cut bat-wing dress and luminous platinum hair, drapes herself decorously over the handsome furniture like Jean Harlow's stand-in. Thankfully Stoker's psychotic Renfield (Jeremy Webb), the mental patient of Dr. Seward (Jeffrey Bean) who dines on flies and spiders, imbibing their life force, makes memorable appearances throughout to give this dinosaur of a play a needed kick of comic strangeness. Webb, over the top, is the only life in this moribund production, happily demented like Cesar Romero's Riddler. The rest of the cast blusters (James Black as intrepid Van Helsing, vampire hunter extraordinaire); do what they can (Jeffrey Bean, as befuddled Dr. Seward); add minor touches (Todd Waite, as asylum attendant Martin, who towers menacingly over everyone but can't keep Renfield in his cell); or they just seem dazed and confused (Chris Hutchison, as Harker; Melissa Pritchett, as extraneous maid Wells, a character who flip-flops between suspicion and willing accomplice). But when interest lags, there's "scenic coordinator" Hugh Landwehr's recension of Gorey to peruse with admiration. How many bats can you find hidden in the wallpaper, the sconces, the drapes, on the floor, in the costumes, on the program cover? Marvel at the range of colors to be had in a palette rendered only in black, white and gray: platinum, cream, pearl, silver, dove, stone, raven, ink. The shades go on and on. Meanwhile, so does the play. The production, directed by Gregory Boyd, meanders, neither camp nor played true. Offset by the Alley's patented gloss, there's only so much worth in a toothless cubic zirconium. Through November 2. Wortham Theatre, University of Houston, 4116 Elgin. Entrance 16 off Cullen Blvd., 713-220-5700. — DLG

Love, Loss, and What I Wore Do the clothes make the woman? If you asked Nora and Delia Ephron, they'd probably say no, but they'd also say that a woman's wardrobe can tell her life story. That's the premise of their 2008 play Love, Loss, and What I Wore, which is being performed at Obsidian Art Space in the Heights via Theater LaB Houston. The play is a series of monologues in which various women reflect on pivotal events in their lives — prom night, marriage, adulterous rendezvous, breast cancer diagnosis, divorce — and the outfits they were wearing on these momentous occasions. The character of Gingy is the one through line of the monologues. Played by Mary Hooper, Gingy takes the audience from childhood to grandmother-hood by revisiting some of the most important outfits of her life. (Illustrations from Ilene Beckerman's book, the play's source material, are projected onto a screen, which makes for a nice visual aid for those who might have a hard time picturing a "wool jersey print dress.") The four other principal actresses embody women of varying ethnicities, ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, educational levels and sexualities, all deeply concerned with the clothes they wear. The monologues are interrupted by sequences that are marked by "clothesline" categories, in which the four non-Gingy characters enter a rapid exchange of categorized concerns. A few are rather comical, such as "The Dressing Room," in which the women lament the difficulty of finding a garment that's actually purchasable, but others are a bit superfluous, like "The Closet," in which we're reminded of the need to have a yard sale every once in a while. Similarly, the major stories themselves have a wide impact; some are more immediate than others. Particularly affecting is the narrative of a young, UC Berkley artist who finds her artistic voice while developing an affinity for short skirts and designer boots. The boots and the skirts empower her and imbue her with a confidence that only a smart, attractive young woman can possess. But her sense of individuality is shattered when a man breaks into her apartment and rapes her. The short skirts get shipped off to Goodwill, but she keeps the boots. Why? Because she loves boots, that's why. Other stories are not so endearing, such as that of a woman who follows a man to Seattle because of their mutual taste in cowboy boots. Despite the warnings of her sisters, she spends seven unfulfilling years as the perpetual girlfriend, never getting invited to visit the man's family for the holidays. It's never fun to listen to a train of bad decisions, but even worse when the implication is that said decisions may be the result of poor fashion choices. The most enjoyable part of Theater LaB's production is the fine performances by its five leading ladies. Hooper, Rozanne Damone Curtis, Eileen J. Morris, Marcy Bannor and Lydia Meadows jump into their material headfirst and carve out compelling characters even from the lesser monologues. Through October 19. 3522 White Oak Drive, 832-889-7837. — AC

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Adam Castaneda
Contact: Adam Castaneda
D.L. Groover has contributed to countless reputable publications including the Houston Press since 2003. His theater criticism has earned him a national award from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN) as well as three statewide Lone Star Press Awards for the same. He's co-author of the irreverent appreciation, Skeletons from the Opera Closet (St. Martin's Press), now in its fourth printing.
Contact: D. L. Groover