HIGH BLOOD COUNT

But the triumph of the technical production is the astonishing score by Roberta Carlson, which blends so well with Jeff Ladman's eerie sound effects that a world of terror is evoked beneath our consciousness.

David Pichette is giving what is simply the best performance of the season as Renfield. His eyes darting like hummingbirds from his sockets, his wild hair astray, his bony chest displayed, he embodies madness. He makes one almost understand why Renfield finds those insects so delicious. Pichette's is an appalling performance you won't soon forget. Benjamin Livingston brings a vulnerable virility to the role of Dr. Seward that makes him the perfect foil for the fiend. Peter Silbert sputters a bit too much as the raisonneur Van Helsing, who voices the central theme of the work, but the writing may be partly to blame. Suzanne Bouchard and Britt Sady enliven their ingānues with strength and intelligence, endowing these frail maidens with a touch of feminism that helps to puncture the masculine egos.

Patrick Page is a Dracula who measures up to myth. Tall and lithe as a young man rejuvenated by his bloody conquests, he is a commanding, sensual master of evil. His aquiline features sneer at the ordinary, and the seductive swirl of his cape is like the pass of a matador. In the flashback scenes, he is an ancient cohort of Attila. Transformed by miraculous makeup, he becomes a scabrous ghoul, with talons, fangs and a mane that reminds us of the ghastly fact that hair and nails continue to grow after we are dead. His performance is so riveting that you will believe without hesitation that it is the otherworldly power of the vampire that causes a wine glass to be suspended midair as he replenishes it from the bottle.

One might legitimately quarrel that in this age of AIDS, it is somewhat insensitive to celebrate a thriller so centered on blood, when it eschews any meaning with a redeeming social consequence. Can we any longer afford a theatre that is only entertainment? With escapism rampant in films and television, shouldn't we expect a higher level of engagement from the theatre? Perhaps. But the nightmares of childhood persist beneath the surface of our smug rationality, and here is an undying tale that you can really sink your teeth into. It may not be nourishing, but it is delicious.

Marshall W. Mason has won six Obie Awards for directing work by playwrights Tennessee Williams, Lanford Wilson and Jules Feiffer. He is now a full professor of theatre at Arizona State University.

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