Translations and adaptations for the stage
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How we see this play and this story.
The vampire will not die. Transfix him as we will, to the page, to the stage, to the screen both large and small, we cannot kill him. He lives on in our souls, a dark seductive presence, terrifying and beguiling, seductive and repellent, repugnant yet fascinating. He will not die because like all the great mythic figures, the hero, the lover, the maiden, the king, the witch, the miraculous infant, the wise old man, the trickster, the queen, the saint, the devil, the angel, the vampire is of us. We create him in our own image, drawing him from the depths of our own souls.
What is the vampire to us today? Why do we return to this story in hundreds of books and plays and films?
He is evil incarnate; he is also evil conquered. His black inversion of life includes macabre reversals of love, of marriage, of the nurture of infants; he gives his horrid gift of insatiable immortality with the righteousness of the true believer. Yet he is conquered, and not by technology, to which he is immune (and there's a thought) but by force of character: the simple, shared comaraderie and courage in the face of terrible evil that is one of the most redemptive attributes of humanity.
There is nothing so terrifying in the myth of the vampire as the sexuality that forms one of its most potent energies. The sexual aspect of the Dracula myth is expressed carnivorously, not carnally. Dracula's pleasures are expressed as a demonic version of the infant suckling; the breast becomes the throat, milk becomes blood, but the pleasure and satiety are the same, even though the bloated figure of Dracula seems more a leech than a lover to a horrified Jonathon. This black inversion of a fundamental human energy rivets the mind with horrific force.
In this story, blood is the fluid of love--and not just for vampires. The transfusions given to Lucy are gifts of love. The sharing of blood becomes an equivalent of marriage. Arthur feels that Lucy is his wife in the sight of God. Blood is made the equivalent of milk when Dracula forces Mina to drink his blood. Dracula holds Mina in a dark travesty of the way a mother holds an infant. Dracula's attack on Mina Harker in which he forces her to drink his blood becomes a kind of black marriage or vampiristic rape, the inversion of the marriage represented by the blood transfusions.
The vampire is surely one of the darkest myths ever to emerge from human consciousness, yet it is ultimately the story of the power of humanity to redeem itself through love and courage. The banding together of these people who dared do so much is like the psychic action of a person gathering his strength to confront the inner darkness. In those silent hours with the blackness within, we know the vampire is real--not in the superficial, material sense, but in the profound sense of the realities extant in our souls. The darkest forces in us have a powerful role to play. When we deny and distort them, they become the terrible demon who must be fought, but when their energies are balanced with love and light, they lose their blackness and are redeemed in their true place as part of that which makes us himan, just as Dracula, in the end, finds peace. Ultimately, that is the lesson of the vampire.
The nature of this play
Our treatment of this myth of ancient horror is not for children. We do not minimize the genuine horror and sexuality of the story. It is not camp; it is not played for laughs, though it does have important scenes of comic relief; we take the myth of the vampire seriously. It is not a marathon; we follow where Bram Stoker leads, carefully condensing and pruning his expansive novel into a tightly structured theatrical experience of normal length. We dissected the events and chronology of his story down to the minutest detail, and we found that his work is seamless; grant him only the premise that there can be such a being as a vampire, and all else follows with flawless probability and necessity.
In the end, the audience should feel that they have been with our characters on a tremendous journey, a quest with life and death at stake, not just for their lives, but for their souls as well. The end of the play--the final victory over the vampire--is a transcendent victory over evil incarnate.
This play is a play--not a dramatization with narration and dialogue. It is a fully realized play for the stage, conveying story through action and dialogue. We do go so far as to use Stoker's convention in which written messags convey important events and information, but we always present such messages in the mouths and by the actions of the characters who write and send them.
Last but not least, we embrace the emotional richness of the 19th century language and characterization. In many cases, we draw our dialogue directly from Stoker.
How the story is told
We begin, with Stoker, in Transylvania, as the English solicitor, Jonathon Harker, arrives there. Giving no heed to the warnings given him by the local people, he goes tothe castle, and there finds himself both the agent of Dracula's plans and the plaything promised to his undead sisters. Against all odds, Harker escapes with his life; but Dracula succeeds in his plan to go to England.
Unlike most adaptations, we follow Dracula's voyage on shipboard. We transform the log kept by the ship's captain into a sequence of scenes both terrifying and darkly comical, as the sailors on board the ship realize that something is terribly wrong; that something--and not a living something--is on the hunt, and they are the prey.
The scene changes to England, where a beautiful young woman, Lucy Westenra, is much occupied with the three men who have offered to marry her. Her friend, Mina Murray, is engaged to marry Jonathon Harker. Mina is visiting Lucy while waiting for Jonathon to return from Transylvania. They read of the strange shipwreck, little knowing that Dracula has arrived on that very vessel and is now loose in their community. Dracula finds Lucy and preys upon her by night. By day, she sickens and weakens. One of her suitors, Dr. Seward, baffled by trying to heal her, calls upon his friend from Amsterdam, Dr. Van Helsing. Van Helsing, a man of mysterious background, recognizes the symptoms, but not the cause; he does not realize that he is dealing with the arch-vampire himself until it is too late to save Lucy's life.
While Van Helsing tried to save Lucy, Mina received a message from the hospital where Harker has been a patient; he has only recently recovered his sanity. She travels to Transylvania and brings him home, but cannot understand his condition. When Van Helsing contacts her to learn more about Lucy, she asks him to advise her about Jonathon. When she shows him Harker's journal, Van Helsing connects the dots and understands fully what they are dealing with.
Van Helsing gathers together the people who know the gravity of the situation and understand that no matter how strange it is, it is terribly true: Mina, the men who loved Lucy, and Harker. They plan how to attack the vampire. They track down his lair--an abandoned chapel near Dr. Seward's hospital. We see a confrontation between Van Helsing and Dracula--an element missing from Stoker's novel, but essential to a full understanding of the nature of the vampire. Van Helsing is even more determined to destroy Dracula, having barely escaped with his life. He has, however, succeeded in sanctifying Dracula's lair; the monster is now on the run.
Dracula, however, has his own plans; he attacks them first. He is able to enter the hospital because he has gained a grip on the disturbed mind of one of Seward's patients. He attacks Mina, but does not kill her; he forces her to drink his blood, which begins the slow and terrible process that will turn her into a vampire unless he is killed. He means to terrorize his opponents, but he reckons without Mina's strength of mind; it is Mina who convinces the men that nothing, not even her own death and transformation into an undead creature, can be allowed to stop them from hunting down and destroying the monster.
The group, led by Van Helsing, pursues Dracula back to Transylvania. In the mountain snows, while the young men hunt Dracula at his castle, Van Helsing and Mina are attacked by Dracula's undead women. Van Helsing's magical protections almost fail; it is again Mina's will and courage that enable her to hold out against the undead until the men return at sunrise. The light of the sun destroys the undead women.
The group tracks down Dracula as he tries to escape to his castle. In a tremendous battle, they succeed in killing him, but at a price: Arthur Holmwood, one of the three men who loved Lucy, is mortally wounded and dies in Mina's arms--but not before he sees that the curse of the vampire is lifted from her.
We need no proofs; we ask no one to believe us.
Our adaptation of Dracula includes 31 named characters, 8 women, 23 men. With appropriate doubling, it can be played by a cast of 15 to 18 people. It is important that it be staged lightly and fluidly, with rapid transitions between scenes; for this reason, we have structured it so that major changes of locale occur only at act breaks. The running time of the production, including two intermissions, should be approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes.
Files available for download
A video clip of Mina's desperate response to being forced to drink Dracula's blood. Mina is played by Jill Zaitchik.
All text and images on this page are copyright 2005 Robert Bethune.
The photographs are of the production by Creative Theater Group, Monroe, New York.