October 8, 2014 The Alley Theatre
If the Fog Malfunctioned I Mock Too Lightly. If not, there was quite a bit of should have been.
October 8, 2014 — The curtain had frivolous symbols of the Halloween season, foreshadowing the possibility of a mellow light melodrama, which the play seems to have delivered. The curtain rises and, all around me are ooooohs and gasps at the beauty of the set and that first one wasn’t even the best setting of the night.
Edward Gorey and Hugh Landwehr and the alley carpenters and techies did a masterful job of designing and a great job of implementing the look of Dracula, the show. The night was a reminder of the capabilities of that University of Houston stage and Wortham Theater. It is a pretty good little theater space. The actors performed a melodramatic Dracula tale to a relatively high level of proficiency. We meet most of the characters and realize it’s not going to be a ‘Fearless Vampire Killers’ with harsh humor and metrocolor skin tones. It may not have been very romantic, not very sensual, not flushed with the blushes of fantasy, but it was the story well told, maybe, mostly, as justification for going to see those amazing set designs. Last of all, if I recall correctly, we meet the Count, the king of undead power, the Sunless icon of smooth terror, the one who flies or moves chairs with his mental powers and he awkwardly staccatos his way onto the stage. He doesn’t seem to know where to put his body, like the space he’s blocked into is too small to move around in. “I’m not THAT kind of vampire” was a line from the Polanski film. Maybe Jay Sullivan isn’t that kind of vampire. Every time we see him he reproves it but it’s not parody or spoof. It seems to be real, so to speak, that the line is “I didn’t hear you because of the lush carpet” and Dracula’s clunk on the wooden stage. He doesn’t float when he moves. He doesn’t seem to the manor or manner born or bred. The actors keep saying lines about how quite he is and the wood of the stage announces his presence. Seeing the staccato moves he made in his first scene got me thinking about stage movement and how important it is to the conveyance of character and the fostering of dramatic belief. What’s more elemental to the manifestation of a being on stage than what one looks like? Sound? Yes, the accents and words, the ways of speech of all the actors held fast and true. Good work on that account. Mr. Sullivan had me thinking about how it takes power to support grace and a vampire was supposed to be powerful. He had me looking at how all the actors move and I must say that they all moved around the space naturally and in character and well. I noticed that James Black as Van Helsing seemingly had a particular grasp on getting from one spot to another. Jeremy Webb, as Renfield, used the mental state of his character to throw energy around that stage in contrast to the straight forward-moving push of Bean and Black and the others in the cast. Melissa Pritchett as the maid when she was playing at being caught in the vampire’s mental power was mime-like in her body control and I mean ‘mime-like’ in a way most respectful to mimes. Her movement was fantastic. She made his power over her look real by the way she controlled her body. Pretty good stuff, I must say. Then…… After all those contrary statements like ‘you’re so quite I didn’t hear you’ when Dracula clunks onto the stage, we have the mirror scene. Later in the play, fog is laid out on the apron of the stage just exactly right where there was no fog during the mirror scene. The technical aspects of this show were superlative, so I had trouble believing it was a fog glitch, but if it was a fog malfunction I mock too lightly and easily. If it was not, then why would Gregory Boyd allow 80 or so percent of the audience to see that HIGH GLOSS painted apron of the stage be a mirror which reflected the Count as well as the other actor and actors in the scene. I don’t remember the lights showing me that smooth as a mirror black paint any other time in the production but right when Van is saying “I can’t see you in the mirror” “no mirror will reflect you” there’s this BRIGHT reflection of everything and everyone upstage mirroring the action of, especially, the ‘invisible to mirrors’ Count. Because it would be so easy to cover that mirror paint with the same fog that covers it later, I wonder if it was a fog glitch. It couldn’t have been a tongue in cheek stage joke, making fun of itself could it?
I worked on the set of one of Gregory Boyd’s first shows at the Alley, a Shakespeare presentation. Remembering his style from back then, how big he was able to make things seem, I put the responsibility for that magnificent set firmly on his shoulders. I’d like to mention again that the set designer was Edward Gorey implemented by Hugh Landwehr. There was also a lot of intricate sound work that, uh, worked.
Don’t like Halloween? Don’t like melodrama? Don’t like the Dracula tale? Don’t worry. You’re going to be pretty amazed by that set. Watching how the stage could and does make effect on, take effect of the look of the actors was part of the fun of this show. Go see that set.