Twice Bitten

Welcome to Phoenix, where the sun never sets and one can typically find on local stages the same half-dozen shows (Little Shop of Horrors, Forever Plaid, West Side Story always among them) playing pretty much year-round. Sometimes, one can even find the same show playing simultaneously at two different theaters, as with Steven Dietz's rather charming adaptation of Dracula, which is currently being presented by both Theater Works in Peoria and North Valley Playhouse in Phoenix.

Actually, make that currently being mauled by North Valley Playhouse, which has managed to drain all the humor and horror from Dietz's darkly comic script. It's obvious in the first several minutes that director Jeana Whitaker was either unaware of the witty absurdities in Dietz's translation or was simply unable to cast actors who could play this subtly bizarre piece of theater. The stunned audience with which I saw North Valley's Dracula was utterly silent throughout, neither laughing at the several spoiled bits of funny business nor gasping at the rather mundane scary stuff. Talk about frightful!

There was some unintentional humor in Craig J. Klodzinski's portrayal of the title character, who speaks in the hammiest, most clichéd "Transylvanian vampire" accent one can imagine. I should never have turned in astonishment to the friend who accompanied me to this languid horror show after The Count bugged out his eyes and announced, "I vant your-a fear!" because we nearly lost it after our eyes met in shocked dismay.

Poor Klodzinski comes off more like a third-rate Joe E. Brown impersonator than anything otherworldly, although he does wear a glittery red fedora rather nicely. And while I enjoyed Jeff Field's performance as Renfield (he really seemed to be having a blast screaming for his master, eating pretend spiders, and nearly pulling down the flimsy "stone" walls to which he was chained), his was the closest thing to acting that took place during this droopy Dracula, which plays like an especially inferior rerun of Dark Shadows. One of the very last lines spoken in the show is, "It is finished. Our work here was not in vain." I beg to differ.

Then again, at least no one broke into song during this snoozy mess, which is more than I can say for Dracula: The Musical? a tuneless campathon that will be falling on its Carpathian prat for the next three months over at Desert Stages. The horrors here have nothing to do with the undead and everything to do with hambone acting and listless direction, although I did like Jimmy Shoffman's hyperactive performance as the crazed nutjob who bursts into spontaneous (and pretty darn hilarious) musical travelogues throughout. The rest of the evening is overtaken with flashpots and halfwitted double-takes and sight gags involving plastic bats and, inexplicably, a rubber chicken. Every joke was overtold, every bit of campy humor stomped flat, and every ballad squawked by Will Powell's tone-deaf Dracula ground the procession to a halt.

I'd planned to drive out to Peoria to see what Theater Works had done with Dietz's play, but after beholding two steaming piles of Dracula, I'd had my fill of bargain basement bloodsuckers and stayed home instead. You can, too.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela