Christopher Aruffo, MFA, MBA, MSc, PhD
Before the Monroe County Civic Theater decided to include the stage version of Bram Stoker's "Dracula" as part of its 2006 season, the show had only been performed once before in its original form. That was in 1897, when Stoker cut out passages of his novel, added stage directions when necessary and premiered his work to a live audience in order to retain stage copyrights to his story.
The Monroe County Civic Theater opened "Dracula" Tuesday at the Irish Lion, a local restaurant, and while it cut out many parts of the four-hour show, the remaining script lacks clarity and is still far too long, clocking in at a little less than three hours.
The show begins with lawyer Jonathan Harker, played by Nick Kidwell, arriving at the castle of Count Dracula, played by Roy Sillings, to finalize a real estate deal. Jonathan instantly feels uneasy being around Dracula, and while Kidwell portrays this well, the dialogue between him and Sillings, who wears fangs in his mouth for the entirety of the show, was often muffled and hard to hear.
If those in the audience are not previously familiar with the story of "Dracula," they will already feel lost.
While the early scenes draw out tediously, the play picks up at the introduction of Lucy Westenra, played by Jessica Christine Ciucci, and Mina Murray, played by Lauren Pope.
While Ciucci is one of the strongest actors in the cast, commanding attention the instant she comes on stage, the explanations of the scenes take too long. We hear Lucy speaking of her many suitors, but the audience does not know who these men are or their importance to the play until more than halfway into the first act.
The turning point happens when Dracula bites Lucy. The audience finally has a story to focus on and the play begins to move in an actual direction. Dr. John Seward tends to Lucy. The doctor is played by Alex Gulck and Abraham Van Helsing, the doctor's former teacher, is played by Chris Aruffo.
Aruffo, who was the dialect coach for the show, is by far the strongest actor, speaking with such diction and clarity throughout that the audience can't help but perk up when he enters the stage.
But one character cannot save a whole production. There are too many flaws to make this a coherent show. Intermission does not occur until two hours into the show, and by that point, the audience just needs a break.
The second act begins awkwardly, with the actors beginning their dialogues while the audience was still standing. However, good moments do transpire as the play continues. One such moment is when Van Helsing rallies the men to kill Dracula. Aruffo brings a sense of honesty to these lines, and he convinces the audience that he really believes in fighting for justice.
At about 10:45 p.m., during yet another set change, a woman yelled from her seat: "This play will never end!" When snickers were heard all around, I knew we were all thinking the same thing.
When the play finally reaches its anticlimactic ending, I felt deflated. I found myself asking: "Did I really wait three hours for the play to end like that?" Sadly, I knew the answer was yes.
That said, the root of the problem is really the script itself. While it is commendable that director Russell McGee was true to the original lines, "Dracula" reads exactly how it was constructed -- passages cut from the original book and thrown on the page in a script form. Because of this, the audience neither has the patience nor the justification to care about the characters and the play itself.
Monroe County Civic Theater's "Dracula" will run at 8 p.m. Nov. 6-8 and Nov. 13-15 at the Irish Lion. All shows are free.