Since special effects are now among the stars of Hollywood, it is not surprising when community theater groups choose to star their own technicians, as in "Dracula," the Fairlington Players' current run.
The Players -- Arlington's oldest theater group -- use fog, flying bats, weird lights and quasi-believable disappearing acts to shroud movements of the monster, a super-tall, red-caped fellow who looks disconcertingly like Frankenstein with styled hair.
There are three wonderfully eerie sets designed by Frank Ludwig and Pat Hamilton. The walls, furniture and costumes are all done in black and white and shades of gray, with one red touch in each scene.
A Players' spokesman said the theater group had a "decent budget" for the play, and it certainly spent the money effectively. The set and special effects deserve laurels -- laurels on which, it appears, the actors are resting.
The man portraying Dracula (Don Budd) subscribes to the Wooden Stake School of Acting, with lips that barely move. He is a lethargic menace at best. The characters he tries to dominate are short on liveliness themselves. Mostly, they just react by being British and they leave their windows open too often. Two happy exceptions to this rule are the madman Renfield (played with obvious fun by Tim Lynch), and his keeper, Butterworth (Bob Hook), who has a strong cockney accent and a talent for expressing the humor in the play.
Dracula, for those who have escaped this escape story, is the last of the vampires, a dead man who arises after sunset to suck blood, howl like a wolf, fly like a bat and control the minds of madmen and beautiful-yet-helpless damsels. He has been at it in Transylvania for 500 years until, with the invention of the airplane, he hitches a ride to England.
There, we are told, he has already sucked all the blood from someone called "poor Mina," and has started the same game plan on Lucy Seward (played like a skinny ninny by Harriet Barrett), daughter of a doctor who runs a sanitarium.
The doctor (John Francis Byrne, who steps on everyone's lines) is at wit's end over his daughter's quick deterioration. Lucy's fiance, Jonathan (Hans Bachmann), is willing to do anything, and believe anything, that will undistress his damsel.
Enter the officious professor Van Halsing (Robert Vander-Linden), a man with too much makeup, a Dutch accent and a wild story about vampires that only Jonathan believes. Together, and with the reluctant help of Dr. Seward, they prove that the forces of good can overcome the gore of yore.
The last performances of "Dracula," directed by Frank Ludwig for the Fairlington Players, are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday in the Gunston Arts Center, 2700 South Lang St., Arlington. Advance tickets are $4 for adults and $3 for students, senior citizens and military. Tickets at the door cost 50 cents more. For more information, call 354-3851 or 558-2165.