Dracula: The Bloody Truth – current pre-Halloween presentation for White Rock Players Club at the Playhouse – is a solid, entertainingly silly show, with some indisputable belly-laughs for those who love a heavy dose of Pythonesque absurdity with their physical comedy.
Director Cathe Busswood has kept it large and uncluttered and her cast of four, Lori Tych, Cale Walde, Ben Odberg and Eric Fortin – reliable players all – perform valiantly and energetically, playing multiple characters at the drop of a hat.
But it should be noted that – in spite of the title – this lighthearted Dracula spoof is too un-bloody a vehicle to satisfy devotees of Grand Guignol, and, for those seeking spookier chills, too patently ridiculous to cultivate any kind of frisson among the audience.
It’s a show conceived, in a collaboration with playwright John Nicholson, with the talents of the originators – British four-man comedy troupe Le Navet Bete (rough translation: ‘The Stupid Turnip’, or its English equivalent, in theatrical terms, The Dumb Turkey) – firmly in mind.
Less intellectual than Python, the ribald humour of this piece is rooted in an understanding of the absurdities of Bram Stoker’s late-Victorian Gothic novel, a delight in the many things that can go wrong with a theatre presentation, and a reckless determination to go for the slapstick effect, even at risk to life or limb.
Indeed, there is no room for interpretation by the players in this single-minded, Punch-and-Judy-like re-telling of Stoker’s classic; what is required of them, above all, is a willingness to clown, fall and get hit by things, and an innate sense of timing.
The only weak moments in the current production come when the players forget to play and start struggling with notions of attempting to act, or react, naturally. Dracula: The Bloody Truth does not call for great acting, or, for that matter, any kind of acting at all – this is a job for the ‘stone face’ playing of a Buster Keaton.
Driving the piece is fearless vampire fighter Abraham Van Helsing (Walde) and his obsessive need to tell the audience the true story of Dracula, minus the theatrical artifice of the “hack” Stoker, but – sadly for him – with the ‘help’ of three spectacularly inept hired actors.
There’s something very funny in Van Helsing’s brusque, impatient insistence that his ‘play’ is designed to educate rather than entertain, and Walde, by and large, nails the character’s spiky irritability and pomposity.
But, oddly, some decisions seem to undermine what should have been some sure-fire laughs for him. In the original Le Navet Bete version, Van Helsing has a thick, burlesqued ‘Dutch’ accent – and a tendency to mispronounce certain English words and names in a way that ends up making them sound obscene.
With Walde playing most of his parts in a stage-English accent, the mispronunciation is unexplained, making the running gag confusing and essentially pointless.
A common and rather rude British phrase – used as a comedic expression of the characters’ alarm and shock at the supernatural turns of the plot – also seems to have been misunderstood by everybody concerned.
Tych is consistently funny, whether impersonating Jonathan Harker’s fiance, Mina Murray; or a crusty salt on the ill-fated ship that brings Dracula to England from the Continent, or Margaret, the Scots-accented assistant to sanitorium director Dr. Seward (or ‘C-word,’ as mispronounced by Van Helsing).
Ben Odberg also wins plenty of laughs as everything from Harker to – in singularly unconvincing feminine garb – Mina’s best friend, Lucy Westenra, and his expressions as the fly and spider-crazed Renfield are worth the price of admission alone.
Fortin also proves equal to the hamminess of the piece, offering an amusing Transylvanian-accented Count Dracula, and an intense Dr. Seward, but, most of all, a priceless sense of discomfited idiocy as one of the hapless actors – which emerges as Van Helsing’s ‘play’ goes further and further sideways.
Chelsea Brown and Jean Tolladay’s costumes are as erratic, but early-1900s era appropriate, as they should be, while Tim Driscoll’s set is servicably in keeping with the chaos of the Doctor’s presentation, which is also aided by Miles Lavkulich’s lighting, and the deliberately misplaced cues of Gordon Gilmour’s sound design.
Dracula: The Bloody Truth continues at the White Rock Playhouse, 1532 Johnston Rd., until Oct. 26.