In all respects -- save one -- it's an entertaining revival of "Dracula," the 1977 Broadway hit, that has sunk its fangs into the stage of the Eisenhower Theater for the next four weeks.
And well it should be. The black and white sets and costumes are those designed by Edward Gorey for the original production, and they remain as witty as ever. (Of course, sets are routinely greeted with applause when the curtain goes up, but, tell me, how often do they get appreciative laughs?)
The direction is by Dennis Rosa, who piloted the show the first time around and has struck, once again, that precise tone -- midway between mockery and high purpose -- that allows audiences to take this theatrical chestnut both seriously and with a grain of salt. The special effects -- bats swooping in open windows and rats scurrying across dungeon floors -- continue to be great fun.
Nor will you get any serious complaints from me about the supporting players, who are going about their perilous business with the proper earnestness and, in a couple of cases, with a touch of Wagnerian inspiration.
Still, there's a hitch to the proceedings: Dracula himself. Martin Landau has the role this time, and you don't have to have seen Frank Langella's seductive performance on Broadway to realize what's wrong. Equipped with a bouffant hairdo Aunt Tillie would spurn and radiating the magnetism of a turnip, Landau doesn't exactly set the blood rushing to your head.
Curiously enough, Dracula is not the play's biggest part. But he does know how to make an entrance. His red-lined cape swirling behind him like a cloud of red dust, he manages to drop by Dr. Seward's sanatorium in the English wilds when he's least expected. Then, once he's planted a few doubts and a few lethal kisses, he vamooses just as abruptly.
But if he's not around all that much -- vampires do have a strict dusk-to-dawn timetable -- his lingering presence should be. Otherwise, why is the increasingly wan heroine (Mary Dierson) carrying on like a moonstruck adolescent? Why is that celebrated Dutch scientist, Abraham Van Helsing (Humbert Allen Astredo), pounding a chubby fist into his palm and swearing to get to the bottom of her mysterious illness -- if time doesn't run out first? Why can't that jittery sanatorium patient, R.M. Renfield (Michael Nostrand), stay put for a solitary second? Something's got into them, so to speak.
Landau is good for one jump-out-of-your-seat moment. (Let's preserve the surprise and say only that it has to do with his demise in a cobwebby crypt.) Much of the evening, however, he seems to be coping with a severe adenoidal problem that requires him to breathe through his mouth. His is not a Dracula to swoon for, and yet swooning is precisely what is required of the blond heroine, when he comes into her bedchamber to claim her for his bride.
Sex is as much a part of the Dracula story as blood and death are. Dierson is certainly holding up her end of the bargain. Looking like an Art Deco statuette, a satin slip hugging her lithe body, her eyes closed in ecstasy, she makes an inviting victim -- just ripe for the taking. Landau might as well be taking her on a cheap date to the coffee shop.
Fortunately, for all its hoariness, the script still generates ripples of suspense, a jolt or two and enough laughs to keep you off balance. Great stage literature, it ain't. But it's a perfect pretext for actors to adopt slightly larger-than-life stances, give themselves over to portentous announcements and throw themselves extravagantly on the furniture. The heightened vigor that Astredo brings to the role of the Dutch scientist, for example, is right on target. (You'd swear he was on the verge of discovering the key to the universe, not just Dracula's coffin.) The silver-haired actor is all urgency, and since he is also all bulk, the urgency is doubly effective.
Dalton Dearborn, as the heroine's father, follows his lead, fretting and stewing neatly. As Renfield, Nostrand seems to have been dusted with itching powder, which is not inappropriate, and his flying leaps from floor to sofa suggest more than a passing kinship with the insects he so likes to devour. Tom Galantich can't handle an English accent, but he has a handsome head of undulating hair and he looks dashing in his tux, which may be enough for the heroine's boyfriend.
You will have no trouble going along with them and the looks of horror and fear that pass regularly over their faces, as the dogs howl and the library curtains rustle. Their sturdy conviction in this fable does a lot to keep the production alive. As for Landau's performance, perhaps it is most charitably viewed in light of Helsing's grave admonition early in the first act: "The strength of the vampire is that people do not believe in him."
DRACULA. By Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston. Directed by Dennis Rosa; designed by Edward Gorey; special effects, Chic Silber. With Martin Landau, Dalton Dearborn, Humbert Allen Astredo, Michael Nostrand, Tom Galantich, Mary Dierson, Laura Kenyon. At the Eisenhower Theater through Dec. 31.