A puppet version of "Dracula"? Puppets are cute, and Dracula has to be sinister. Puppets are simple, basic. And Dracula -- as he has been elaborated by Bela Lugosi and generations of later actors -- is a suave, subtle member of the decadent nobility of Central Europe, the sort of eligible bachelor who would start a speculative gleam in the eye of a Victorian mother with daughters ready for marriage.
A very different Dracula is offered, Thursdays through Sundays for the rest of August, at the New Playwrights' Theatre. Presented by the American Puppetry Association, which regularly works at the Torpedo Factory, this Dracula has none of the usual Transylvanian charm; he is a creature somewhere between beast and devil, panting and grunting abominably as he works his vile will on his victims. One look at him and you know exactly what he is, if not what to do about him.
It is a brief and fairly simple show, primarily for children -- who enjoy its sound effects, its swooping bats, the billowing clouds of smoke and fog, the scary apparitions of undead victims. But there are moments to chill adults who can suspend disbelief, and the beautifully sculptured, deftly maniuplated puppets have a fascination all their own. They are rod puppets, 36 to 40 inches tall (manipulated by people working under the stage) and capable of very natural arm and head movements, though their legs are less subject to control and they tend to glide rather than walk. This show will not interest those who seek realism or psychological nuance, but it has an appeal of its own, as strong as it is specialized.