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Advice

Gerald Carpenter: Gothic Tale, ‘Bram Stokers Dracula,’ to Haunt Oxnard Performing Arts Center

At 8 p.m. this Wednesday, Sept. 30, in the auditorium of the Oxnard Performing Arts Center, the Center will host the world premier of the L.A. Theatre Works production of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, adapted for the stage by Charles Morey and directed by Matt August.

After the premiere, L.A. Theatre Works will take the play on an extensive tour that will last well into 2016.

According to the Oxnard Performing Arts Center's website, "Bram Stoker’s novel of 1897, Dracula, was published with little popular fanfare. Critics, however, praised the author and put Stoker in the category of Mary Shelley and Edgar Allan Poe."

Despite its critical reception, the tale of this "otherwordly being that feeds off others to preserve eternal life" did not gain wide-spread popularity until the early to mid 1900s, when films brought the vampire into the public eye.

"Invasion stories, during the height of British colonialism, were made popular by Rudyard Kipling, Arthur Conan Doyle and others, but Stoker’s Dracula was like nothing the world had seen. This gothic horror is a classic for all time and has spawned hundreds of spin-offs in popular culture from 'Twilight' to 'True Blood.'"

Writer Charles Morey weaves the age-old plot into a production fit for the stage, capturing the tale's most memorable characters and truly bringing them to life.

"In Charles Morey’s acclaimed adaptation, Count Dracula slips quietly into Victorian London with a cargo of his native Transylvanian soil, necessary for rest between his victims," writes the Oxnard Performing Arts Center. "The city seems helpless against his frightful power, and only one man, the smart and resourceful Dr. Van Helsing, can stop the carnage. But to do this, he must uncover the vampire's lair and pierce Dracula’s heart with a wooden stake, setting up an epic confrontation of good vs evil."

Regardless of the tale's age, the themes and tropes that branch from Stoker's original gothic novel continue to impact and inform contemporary life.

"Over the years, the story of Dracula has been used as commentary in modern studies of psychology, women’s issues and colonialism, while never losing its place as one of the greatest horror stories ever told," the performing arts group describes.

Bram Stoker in 1906

This early-tour show promises to be a fascinating and highly enjoyable evening's entertainment. 

You may well wonder, since the world premiere has yet to take place, how Morey's adaptation can already be "acclaimed." The explanation is simple: Morey first adapted the novel as a radio play, which the L.A. Theatre Works has performed on the air, to considerable praise. 

The fact that it made such an effective radio play, incidentally, bodes well for this production. In the beginning was the spoken word.

Why it is called Bram Stoker's Dracula, unless the formulation is just the current fashion in naming adaptations, I can only speculate. Francis Ford Coppola, too, used the title for his garrish, absurdly over-produced film of the Stoker narrative. 

Maybe they are just saying "this is the real Dracula" — in the same way that the late Gene Siskel asserted in all seriousness that Interview with the Vampire was "about real vampires."

People get hung up in lore. Myself, I think that any member of the violent, relentlessly homicidal gang in Katherine Bigelow's great vampire road trip movie, Near Dark, is much closer to what a real vampire would be like, if you met one in a bar — "aside," as Agent Dana Scully said to Sheriff Hartwell, "from the fact that they don't exist."

Or, maybe it is just an obvious way of giving credit where credit is due, for Bram Stoker is definitely worth knowing about.

Alive, he was known chiefly as the personal assistant of the famous actor Henry Irving and business manager of Irving's Lyceum Theatre in London — jobs which he held for 27 years.

He published four novels before bringing out Dracula in 1897, and seven novels after it: none of them made his fortune, and he died poor.

Contemporaneous critics were unanimous and enthusiastic in their praise of Dracula  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ​wrote Stoker a fan letter — yet the novel never attracted the general public.

It is, perhaps, too well-written, and it contains some rather disturbing insights about human desires. He was particularly acute in his understanding of what Benedetto Croce called "morbid romanticism," the Wagnerian liebestod

(Stoker's most explicit treatment of this late 19th century phenomenon was in his 1909 novel, The Lady of the Shroud, but a mood of dark voluptuousness pervades the opening passages of Dracula as well, during Jonathan's journey to Transylvania and his stay at Castle Dracula.)

Nevertheless, all the adaptations that make Count Dracula into a romantic or tragic hero miss Stoker's point completely. Dracula is not the hero of the novel, he is the threat.

Van Helsing is not the hero of the novel, either, but the technical expert. The hero is Jonathan Harker, and his passionate quest to save his beloved from the Count's predation is what drives the story forward.

Tickets to <I>Bram Stoker's Dracula range from $43–$53, and they can be purchased at the Oxnard Performing Arts and Convention Center box office (800 Hobson, Oxnard), by phone at 805.486.2424 or online at http://www.oxnardperformingarts.com/bram-stokers-dracula.html.

— Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributing writer. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed are his own.

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