Bram Stoker, author of the classic Dracula, worked in theater for his entire career. "He was manager at Henry Irving's Lyceum Theatre, which is sort of like saying he worked for the Orson Welles or Laurence Olivier of his time. Irving was an actor/manager - or in today's terms an actor/director/producer - the ultimate triple hyphenate. Stoker has theater in his veins, as it were," says Alley Theatre Artistic Director Gregory Boyd.
So, Boyd says, Stoker's novel was always going to go onstage, as it will once again shortly in Houston when the Alley presents Dracula, the Original Vampire Play.
Calling the play "more of a mystery play than a horror play - though there are elements of each genre circling all the time," Boyd said that is focused on its characters above all.
"These characters are mythological by now - the Vampire King, the Victim, the Lunatic, The Doctor, the Hero, the Vampire Hunter - and, like in the Greek plays - and I make no apology for the comparison - it's a real pleasure to watch the different versions of the story ring changes on the characters in it, even as they struggle with ultimate evil."
Boyd said he decided to base the Alley's version of the classic tale by Bram Stoker on the 1924 London version - which "morphed into the 1927 Broadway version (making a star of Bela Lugosi) and later platformed the famous 1931 film - though it's very different in its storytelling. The Count is a shape-shifter and so is his story."
Boyd, who confesses to enjoying all versions of Dracula from the cheesy to the classy, also decided to go with black and white drawings and photographs in keeping with the costumes and set designs by famed illustrator Edward Gorey.
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Gorey (his artwork appears in the opening credits of Masterpiece Theatre on PBS) was known for drawing characters who projected a touch of menace or otherness and said that Dracula which he read as a child was one of the greatest influences on his work, according to Boyd.
"Gorey made his designs for Dracula in the late 1970's. It was an immediate and rapturous success on Broadway mainly because it is striking and beautiful and strange, but also because it was an unexpected take on the famous tale. I saw it five times as a young actor and loved it. It's not all black and white by the way - there are carefully considered touches of red from time to time."
Jay Sullivan (as Dracula), James Black and Jeffrey Bean lead the cast.
Dracula, the Original Vampire Play opens October 8 and runs through November 7 at the University of Houston's Wortham Theatre, 4116 Elgin Street, just off Cullen Boulevard on the main campus. 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays and Sundays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. For information call 713-220-5700 or visit alleytheatre.org. $26-$86.