Goths everywhere may still argue whether Bela Lugosi is indeed dead, or possibly undead, but certainly the man who originally brought Count Dracula to theater audiences way back when will be there in spirit when the Lake City Playhouse stages “Dracula” starting Thursday.
Director Rebecca McNeil opens the new season at the much-beloved Coeur d’Alene institution with a “dark, somewhat depressive, and certainly unsettling” adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic novel just in time for Halloween.
However, this probably isn’t the sort of production you’d want to bring your adorable little bloodsuckers to see before trick or treating. “I recommend the show for ages 14 and older, depending on the parents involved. It is scary, so don’t bring kids who tend to get really bothered by scary movies. People are murdered on stage,” warns McNeil.
The script, penned in 1996 by American playwright Steven Deitz, was chosen primarily because it stays faithful to the Stoker novel and avoids the campiness prevalent in many modern interpretations of the story. Similarly, in a refreshing contrast to the cute, cuddly vampires currently absorbing pop culture with the “Twilight” series and such TV fluff as “The Vampire Diaries,” “Dracula’s” title character is a significantly grittier specimen.
When McNeil was casting for the title role, she didn’t have a specific look or age in mind but needed someone who could exude the necessary “confidence, intelligence, charisma and sensuality” to convincingly portray the bloodthirsty thousand-year-old count. She selected Dave Rideout for the role, who may not exactly have the adolescent appeal of Robert Pattinson, but for the director, that just adds to his engagingness.
“Our Dracula is not a pretty boy,” she explains, “but more of a handsome gentleman. Women don’t fall under his spell because of his looks, anyway – it’s all about his ability to offer them what they desire and then exploit their guilt. Not that our Dracula isn’t good looking – he’s just way past frat-boy days.”
I was able to attend a run-through of the play recently, and the chaotic vibe in the air was typical of any community theater production in its incubation phase. But not even the less-than-shoestring budget and some surprise personal crises among the cast and crew could stop everyone involved from putting themselves fully into the task at hand.
David Carey is particularly nerve-rattling as the asylum-bound lunatic Reinfield and Danielle Reyes’ transformation as Lucy from a sweet Snow White into a screeching demonic banshee had me clenching my toes in fright. McNeil is no stranger to the hallowed halls of the Lake City Playhouse. “I grew up here, back when it was the Coeur d’Alene Community Theatre,” she said.
“My parents acted and directed and volunteered, so I spent many hours watching rehearsals, ushering during shows and then being in shows as I got older. It was a fabulous childhood and certainly never lacked for an imaginative environment.” She was able to carry her passion for stagecraft to Seattle’s New City Theater for a yearlong residency and has written and directed numerous local productions, including four plays at the Playhouse. She’s also working on passing down the family tradition to the next generation.
“As I’ve grown closer to 40 and had my own children, I’ve really come to love the community theater. There aren’t many activities left that you can do for free just because you love them.”
As with any entity that relies on the community to survive in these rickety economic times, funds at the Playhouse can be scarce at best. Happily, cast and crew members were able to pitch in some cash to buy the special stage make up the play requires. Also, several local businesses were kind enough to contribute various goods and services, most entertainingly the five sets of personalized fangs provided by the magnanimous folks at Schini Family Dentistry.
Playhouse staff is also always extremely welcoming to any supportive bodies who can volunteer to do anything from building sets to cleaning toilets. Not only does the theater benefit but the experience can land you some new “BFFs” as well. Says McNeil, “you’ll never meet a ‘family’ like the friends you will make at the Playhouse. And, of course, you can always give money – but it’s so much more fun to come be a part of the action!”
The director pauses and deadpans, “And then give us money … .”
I had to ask her a silly question; if Count Dracula were to swoop into town all dressed to dine, drink and disco, where would she take him?
“I think his cocktail of choice would be the ‘Scarlet Queen’ at the Wild Sage Bistro, and for dinner he might like some sushi from Syringa,” she said. “Or perhaps a very rare steak. Or maybe that’s just what I want right now. Hard to say.”