Sunday, October 19, 2008

Dracula-La: A Review

Several weeks ago, Daniel told me to book a babysitter for last night. He wouldn't tell me what we were doing, just to get a sitter from 6 to midnight. He enjoys having a harmless secret from me, because I always try to tease the secret out of him. He did finally reveal that we were going to a play - someone at his work is mixed up with a theatre group and had put up a poster in the break room, so Dan thought, "Why not" and bought tickets.

So as we were preparing to leave, Dan dropped some more tidbits: "I think it's kind of a musical," and, "It's an original play." I began to silently giggle with glee and the potential for mockery, because I am a born mocker. Ringo Starr, I salute you.

We drove to the Huntington Beach Playhouse. On the way, Dan was very concerned that the play would stink and be a waste of our time. I assured him that it would never be able to be as bad as "October," which was the play that finally made us stop attending the Rude Guerrilla Theatre. And besides, if it was awful we would be supplied with in-jokes that would last us many a year. As we pulled into the parking lot, he dropped one last bomb: "Oh, there's a vampire, too." Egads, I love the theatre.

As you may have surmised, the play is "Dracula-La." Get it? Dracu-La-La-La? Oh yes, it gets better. Now, before I get carried away in dissection, I need to note a few things. It was not bad. I enjoyed it. Community theatre is run by people with an infectious joy for putting on a show, and I love that about it. I have been mixed up in community theatre (although never with musicals - I am extremely picky about musicals). Between that and my college theatre experience, I understand the limited pool of actors that directors have to choose from. Add in the requirements of singing and dancing and the pool shrinks even more. Not to mention the tight budgets. But - and this is so super cool - they had a live band performing the music. I have never seen that in a community/small theatre before, so it was a really great treat.

On to the play. Set in Philadelphia 1928, which they bludgeon you over the head with in the first song, "Philadelphia 1928." We are introduced to a chorus of four flapper girls, who we soon discover are prostitutes - but not drug users, they assure us in song. It's good to know we are only dealing with hookers, not junkies. They speak in a strange mishmash dialect of betty-boopisms and old-fashioned slang and wear obvious Halloween costume flapper dresses. Their madam, Sophie, is soon to be married to Bela, the friendly neighborhood all-night candy store owner, who sleeps all day and runs his candy store all night (but is taking pills to change that schedule, so I suspect will soon spiral into an Elvis-esque barbiturate-and-upper addiction cycle), and has a mortal fear of placing his mouth on his fiancee. Hmmm.

Here is where I must praise and criticize. The gentleman who played Bela is a fine singer - a lovely tenor with a clear voice. He really could use acting and movement lessons, if he's serious about the acting side of things. Movement lessons would actually have benefited several of the cast members. I must also criticize the script a bit. In this first scene with Bela and the hookers, There are several moments when, old-school melodrama style, Bela delivers a semi-sinister line toward the audience, with a little shot of ominous music. This never happens again until the second to last scene, which is a shame because it is such a fun device -it plays to the audience, almost always gets a laugh, and heightens the ridiculousness of an undercover vampire running an all-night candy store.

Another point of praise. Both Bela and Sophie are middle-aged and their bodies will not be gracing any underwear ads. I enjoyed a love story between two people who are not twenty and rail-thin.

Enter the conflict. A trio of vampires (Miklos, Laszlo, and Zsa Zsa) from the old country pay a visit to Bela, and during their stay they have already killed a few people, which the streetwalkers twitter and shudder about ("they found her in an alley, with two puncture marks on her neck!"). Apparently, Bela is the last known descendent of Count Dracula and he must now take over the throne, or all the world's 900 vampires will die in three days. Although the vampires were absolutely delightful (by far the best performances of the show), their advent brings up multiple conflicts with the fact that the play takes place in 1928. First, their costumes! There were no club goths or cybergoths in 1928 - of that I am certain. Had I been the costumer, I would have gone with the romantic 1920's European look. Laszlo almost had this look, but his fake leather trenchcoat was very distracting (and probably made him very sweaty). Zsa Zsa was cybergoth/early industrial (with huge black platform boots, a fake leather trench and great though not at all period hair) and Miklos was dressed as the sort of guy I shunned at Helter Skelter back in the day - mesh shirt, spike collar, chains on his black pants and mid-calf laceup boots. The other problem is their need to get back to the old country in three days - Lindbergh flew over the Atlantic just the year before in 1927, and there were no transatlantic commercial flights going on in 1928.

Back to the play. Bela refuses to join them. Apparently, if a vampire abstains from bloodsucking for seven years he can return to humanity. Bela is two days away from this, and on that day he plans to marry Sophie (and finally kiss her, we suppose). The vampires leave in angry defeat, but of course they cook up a plan to force Bela to go with them. Zsa Zsa hypnotizes Bela, Sophie sees them togather and thinks Bela is fooling around on her. Miklos hypnotizes Mimi, one of the whores (yeah, I said it), and lures her back to the hotel, where Bela is to suck her blood and return to vampirism. the hookers' costumes are much better in the second act. Sophie wears a particularly lovely dress that really does exude 1920's style. One of the hookers, Ginger, has a penchant for the supernatural and begins to piece together what is going on. Mimi and Bela escape, confirm Ginger's suspicions, and then Ginger and Bela head off to put an end to the vampires (stakes, garlic, crosses, all that). They are thwarted, doom seems imminent, then Sophie and her whores (tee hee, I love saying that) bust in and save the day. It is accidentally discovered that the hapless Miklos, who was definitely the weak link in the vampires' chain (the character, not the actor - who was very good), is a distant relative of Bela and thus is eligible for the vampire throne. Laszlo, the competent strongman leader, is horrified (but I guess that's better than dying, eh?). Zsa Zsa immediately turns her seductive powers on Miklos. And then Bela and the whores, who have everything they need to kill these three vampires and thus free the world of all 900 vampires in existence, casually decide to LET THEM GO. Then everybody sings a very funny song, "Hail the New Count Dracula," and Miklos hams it up quite charmingly as the new leader.

Summation: Most songs are very enjoyable, but I didn't walk out humming any of them. The play needs a re-write. The live band was awesome. The vampires were great, fierce and over the top in a good way. The whores never gelled as a group, but Mimi and Ginger were the better of the lot - of course, they were the only two allowed any real character traits (unless you count Boots' dependence on a flask of booze as a character trait). Sophie and Bela have fine voices and good presence when singing, but their movement and acting needs work. The bellboy character is unnecessary (see, I didn't even mention it) and inappropriate for a 15-year-old boy (which is who played it).

After the show we ate at Matsu, a Japanese restaurant. The only way it could have been more kitschy was if the kimono-clad waitresses had geisha makeup and made us sit on the floor. Then I fell asleep in the car as we drove home, because I am an old woman now and I need my sleep.


Susan M said...

Had no idea there was a Huntington Beach Playhouse. It's just down the street too.

Kimberly said...

Dracula la la? Now I've heard of everything.

Stephanie said...

Sounds like a fun night out. Brava to Dan - and Dracula la la.

liannallama said...

Oh, I'm cracking up! I can't believe they let a play with prostitution in it run in HB! My friend was in Cuckoo's Nest there and they wouldn't let anyone say the "F" word--ridiculous!

I'm glad you got to go out and so something so fun--way to go, Dan!

Aunt Christine said...

"Sophie and her whores" sounds like a band name.

And what a costume tragedy for the vampire crew. Steam punk vamps would fit the bill so much better.

colleeeen said...

ohhhh, steampunk! that would have been much more plausible.

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