It's a dark and stormy night. Dracula creeps toward an unsuspecting young woman. Suddenly, a flashbulb!
Not a thunderclap and the crackle of lightning. But a blinding flash of light from the audience, where people with cameras -- lethal to live performances -- sit in self-absorbed splendor, undermining the opening night of Castaways Repertory Theatre's production of "Dracula."
Castaways Theatre has made an audacious choice for its fall production, hauling out the familiar tale of the walking undead, as adapted for the stage recently by Steven Dietz.
Dietz used the original 1897 novel by Bram Stoker as his starting point, and not the more familiar 1930s film version of Stoker's tale.
The book is compelling literature, an adventure between good and evil and an examination of how science and faith can be harnessed to keep the darkness of the world at bay.
The thirsty Transylvanian is still recognizable, exhibiting familiar vampire traits -- stalking virginal members of London society by night, controlling the minds of mere mortals, unable to see himself in a mirror and repelled by garlic and crosses.
As in the old movies, he has a dreadful accent. Have we forgotten that it was actor Bela Lugosi who could barely speak English and not Count Dracula?
The important question here is whether Castaways can compel an audience to suspend disbelief while creating and maintaining a spell of supernatural dread and horror for more than 21/2 hours. In this case, the answer is no. During this ragged effort, with moments ranging from feeble to bravura, the only time any blood runs cold is when red syrup is dribbled on the leading lady's exposed neck.
The cast is uneven, with accomplished performers sharing the stage with less capable actors. The sound effects are occasionally effective but tend to snap off in mid-sound, shattering the sense of realism at critical moments.
The scenic design is also disappointing. How difficult would it be to transform the Transylvania mountains into the London skyline? Mountains do not ring London.
The play has a promising, stylish start, with a highly charged performance by talented Mary-Anne Sullivan. She goes deliciously over the top as the demented Renfield, creating an unsettling atmosphere and munching on a rat, flowing into a scene of beauty as several society ingenues enter a room in a graceful ballet.
But the style quickly fades, diminishing into mechanical storytelling. There are occasional moments to savor, such as when director Zina Bleck has three sets of lamentations occurring simultaneously, ratcheting up in volume and intensity as the music swells in tandem and ending in ferocious lightning. It's forceful stagecraft.
But, overall, this "Dracula" has no bite.
"Dracula" continues through Nov. 13 at Ferlazzo Building, 15941 Donald Curtis Dr., Woodbridge. Performances at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Admission is free for military members in uniform Nov. 12 and 13. For information or tickets, call 703-508-5418 or go to www.castawaystheatre.org.