Theater Review

Theater Review: Synetic Theater Revives a Sexier 'Dracula'

IN A CROSS MOOD: Vampire killer Van Helsing (Roger Payano) goes after one of the bloodsuckers (Mary Werntz) in
IN A CROSS MOOD: Vampire killer Van Helsing (Roger Payano) goes after one of the bloodsuckers (Mary Werntz) in "Dracula," now at the Rossyln Spectrum. (Graeme B. Shaw)
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By Peter Marks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ol' dead eyes is back.

And like a lot of other bloodsuckers these days, his taste runs as much to the gratifications of the flesh as to the fluid that courses through it.

Synetic Theater has revived its 2005 adaptation of Bram Stoker's "Dracula" with a virtually new cast and an uptick in sexy beastliness. For this go-round, the vampire-in-chief, originated by the company's artistic director, Paata Tsikurishvili, is played by Dan Istrate, who hails from -- honest to goodness -- the Romanian region of Transylvania.

The role reassignment has allowed director Tsikurishvili to take a step back and, with his choreographer wife, Irina, intensify the sensual impact of the work.

What results is a slinky creepshow, a treat for those who've grown out of making the Halloween rounds. It's one of Synetic's more satisfying blendings of spoken word and dance, though it must be said it's not quite on a par with the company's quicksilver, dialogue-free mountings of Shakespeare, such as the entrancing "A Midsummer Night's Dream" that just ended its run.

Whereas Tsikurishvili's portrayal tilted toward the classically demonic -- and the production, as a result, took on the earmarks of a vintage horror movie -- his successor is more of a guy in a cape on the make. Istrate shoots come-hither looks at the ladies, and soon enough, they are breathlessly showing some neck. (The idea here is that the power of attraction is interchangeable with supernatural power.) It seems no accident that one of the show's socko interludes features the three brides of Dracula (Irina Koval, Stacey Jackson, Catalina Lavalle) making steamy contact with their master's naked torso.

The undead appear to be walking among us all the time in contemporary pop culture, with an accent on titillating rivers of red gushing from toned young bodies. The emphasis on athletic frames is evident, too, on Synetic's stage at the Rosslyn Spectrum, where such multifaceted performers as Natalie Berk and Ryan Sellers and the exceptional Alex Mills bring a welcome litheness to the physical aspects of the storytelling.

The plot itself follows the contours of Stoker's epistolary novel, as the count and his bloodthirsty cortege welcome an English guest (Mills) to his forbidding homestead, after which Dracula wends his way to London, where a banquet of fresh corpuscles awaits. A prologue that gives the company an excuse for some heavy-duty acrobatic combat establishes the circumstances of Dracula's possession.

A bit of a disconnect exists, however, between the electric impact of the choreography and the dialogue scenes, which adequately serve the plot but sound at times like parodies of Victorian formality. The script is attributed to company member Nathan Weinberger, although it's highly reminiscent of the 2005 version that was credited to former Synetic actor Jonathan Leveck.

Visually, this production redresses some of the deficiencies in the original. Designer Anastasia Ryurikov Simes has refined her own concept of a spider's lair; on this occasion she has built a towering set of insect legs over the stage and strung up bits of fabric that dangle like a network of cobwebs. (She, like the Tsikurishvilis, has learned how to maximize use of the Spectrum, a space no more redolent of the theatrical than a Home Depot.) Andrew F. Griffin's lighting envelops the stage in a suitable murkiness as well.

Istrate's Dracula lacks some of Paata Tsikurishvili's miming magic: Somehow, Tsikurishvili could make it appear as if the count were continually hovering a foot or two above the ground. But the role's new inhabitant has smoldering intensity to spare, easily conveying the belief that whatever the blood drinker wants, the blood drinker gets.

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