You just can't keep a good dead man down. The hematophagic aristocrat has figured in literally hundreds of plays and movies since Bram Stoker brought him to life in 1897. We've had scary Draculas, sexy Draculas and, especially of late, camp Draculas. As reincarnated by Rage of the Stage Players, Drac is all of the above, but most of all a victim of history and his heritage.
Dracula: Dragon Prince, a new play written and directed by James Michael Shoberg, ties the fictional figure to the historical character he's allegedly based upon, the 15th-century Prince Vlad III ("Vlad the Impaler"). Then it transposes Stoker's tale and characters into the 21st century.
"Imposes" might be a better word. The time-shift doesn't go down so well, and the entire enterprise is so ambitious it threatens to crash in upon itself. But despite the many and creaky scene changes, subsequent pacing problems, and the painfully parachronistic characters, this Drac has its moments.
Most of them come during the exploration of the 15th-century Vlad and his family. It's a bit tangled, what with war against the Ottoman Turks and the demands of the Roman church, Christian vs. Muslim, brother vs. brother, hostages, secret societies and brutalities. But while there's a dramatic climax in an Abraham-like sacrifice scene, its power is never repeated in the second act. And despite a great switch from the 15th to 21st centuries, the play loses its way quickly. Even with the modern modifications, we know what's going to happen. It all turns to camp -- or worse.
Visually, this Dracula is a knockout, at least in conjuring the 15th century, and in its embodiments of the hunk Dracula (Gordon Palagi) and his brides/babes (Carrie L. Shoberg, Liz Murphy and Jesse Sirko). Much of the credit is due Chucky Hendershot (who also plays Vlad's brother) for special effects, and the set design by Ms. Shoberg and Robert Henry, who also fabricated a great dragon skull. But against the tony Transylvanians, the moderns just look so drab and clunky. And forget Stoker's chaste maidens: a vampire's bite is supposed to awaken carnality, but these broads are already approaching serious slut territory, so Dracula's efforts are wasted.
The production warns playgoers that the show is not for the kiddies or the over-sensitive. But while there's plenty of decadence and gore, the scariest part is hoping that the actors don't hurt themselves with all the screaming.
Dracula: Dragon Prince continues through Sun., Sept. 16. Rage of the Stage Players at the Brewhouse, 2100 Mary St., South Side. 412-851-0922 or www.myspace.com/rageofthestage