OREM — After laughing my way through Salty Dinner Theater’s production of Frankenstein last year, I was excited to see Dracula: This Show May Bite. I loved the crazy comedy, the high energy and the audience interaction and couldn’t wait to experience it again. And Dracula did not disappoint.
Dracula: This Show May Bite is a very loose re-telling of the Bram Stoker novel, turning it from a horror story to a laugh-out-loud comedy that is performed at several restaurants around Utah and Salt Lake valleys. (I saw the production at the Old Spaghetti Factory in Orem.) Dracula tells the story of Jonathan Harker (Jacob Barnes), a young lawyer who is sent to Transylvania to help Count Dracula (Allen Smith) buy a house and move to England. Harker is imprisoned by Dracula, and injured while trying to escape. His fiancee Mina (Sheri Gillies) travels to be with him while Dracula ships himself to England and wrecks havoc. Mina and Jonathan consult Doctor Van Helsing (Mike Brown) about the danger and the three of them determine to hunt down Dracula.
In the Salty Dinner Theater version of Dracula, the story is narrated by Renfield (Casey Wayman), a patient in an insane asylum that Dracula manipulates to get information and help. Wayman was one of the strongest performers; his energy stayed high the whole time. He was in a straight jacket throughout the show, and near the beginning attempted to break free from it. He was throwing himself around the room, appearing totally out of control. Yet Wayman avoided hitting any of the tables, audience or servers carrying trays of drinks. He maintained that level of energy and control throughout the piece.
I also enjoyed Gillies’s performance. She showed a wide range of character choices that made her interesting to watch, going from nuzzling noses with Jonathan at the beginning of the show, to losing her mind and acting like a chicken after Dracula bit her, to stabbing Dracula in his coffin at the end of the piece. The variety she showed made her a stand out.
Energy levels were key to the success of this production. With a large audience that was eating during the production and a small performance space between table and chairs and working around servers, the energy had to stay high to keep the audience engaged. In general, the cast and director Alisha Hall were successful at keeping their energy up and the audience involved. There were a few moments when it felt like everything came to a stand-still however. When Doctor Van Helsing first entered, there were huge pauses before each of his lines as he stared at various audience members. During those pauses, the momentum of the show grinded to a halt. The same thing happened near then end of the show when Renfield was supposed to be escorting Dracula’s coffin back to his castle in Transylvania, but instead of starting the scene he was standing in the doorway humming elevator music. But these moments passed and I was generally engaged throughout the show.
I admired the cast’s grasp of comedy. There was a wide variety of comedy styles present in this piece, and all were successful. Physical of comedy, like a dance off between Doctor Van Helsing and the brides of Dracula or Jonathan throwing an unconscious Mina around as he argues with Van Helsing, was a prominent part of the show. But the funniest aspects in my mind were the audience participation and cultural references. At one point, Lucy (a friend of Mina’s played by Dena Brady) is trying to decide between three men who have proposed to her. She and Mina chose three random men in the audience and turned them into the three suitors. Then Doctor Van Helsing entered and conducted a game show with the three audience members to help Lucy decide who to choose, giving her a rose at the end to present to her choice. Along with referencing The Dating Game and The Bachelorette, the vampire cultural references were rampant in this piece. My favorite was when Abraham Lincoln came into the room carrying an axe to help hunt down Dracula. The cultural references were well used and reflected the feelings of the audience. After everyone groaned at the first Twilight joke, the cast spent the rest of the show mocking Twilight, rather than praising it.
The only thing that did not work for me was the transitions between scenes. There were breaks to allow food to be served and give people time to eat. During these breaks, an unnamed insane asylum patient came through and sang with the audience. She introduced herself as the singer whose song she was singing: Celine Dion, Journey, etc. The music was fun, but here character came out of nowhere and had no backstory at all. It felt like they needed something to fill space and put her in because similar ideas had worked before. It wasn’t a bad idea, just a bit confusing because everyone else had a specific name and character and she did not.
I really enjoyed Dracula and congratulate the cast on a strong, energized performance. This show is a fun way to celebrate Halloween if you’d rather laugh then scream.