Vampires are not unknown in our time, so many of them having taken over our movie theaters. Count Dracula will probably never be allowed to rest in peace: No matter how many stakes are driven through his heart, he must rise again and go on with the show.
If we must put up with his menace, by far the pleasantest way of doing so is the play "Dracula" at the Eisenhower Theater. Here is the original story told with grisly charm - as different from the bloody movies spun off the vampire legend as a sophisticated sex comedy is from pornography.
Raul Julia is a monumental and charismatic Dracula, not a silly figure with blood dribblig on his chin. One cannot easily condemn a man who wears evening clothes so well, even if he is discovered to have socially unacceptable habits.
But the dominator of this production is its prize-winning designer, Edward Gorey. Sets and costumes - all black, white and gray with touches of red - more than the script or the acting, although both are witty, make this play what it is.
Gorey has treated it as a living series of his stylized sketches that look like old fashioned engravings whose formality is pierced with sharp and unexpected details. It is the stiffness of this milieu that makes the introduction of the dreadful both creepy and funny. Unlike Charles Addams' world of fiends, Gorey's - often Edwardian, but post-World War I in this play - is populated with the protected rich, and the enjoyment is finding that they are not really protected.
The horror of this world is rather genteel, also. Nothing is disgusting, in the methods that horror movies keep developing further. The tone of horror is first set when the houselights are on in the theater, and a sudden sound of dogs howling cuts through the murmurs of the settling audience. People leap out from behind curtains - the viewer's scream (or rather gasp) is followed by a laugh. Good clean horror, one might call it.
Julia's Dracula and John Long as a madman-victim have created original characters in keeping with this atmosphere; the others in the cast ably impersonate the type of character Gorey keeps drawing.
DRACULA: At the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater through July 15.