Dracula & the Five Dollars I Owe You

Dracula 01Friday, Janie and I were with a couple of Louisville friends for dinner and the theatre. It was a lovely night. The companionship was first rate, Janie got to boogie in the aisles with a packed house to the lively strains of ABBA (I’m just grateful there wasn’t a vacant pole nearby), and dinner at the Bristol was, for us, nostalgic. We had subscribed to Actors Theatre Louisville for many years (see the blog entry; “Droning Tonto and the Atomic Bic”), and part of our ATL ritual usually included dinner at the Bristol before curtain. I’m happy to report the Bristol’s green chili won-tons and filet mandarin still excel as theatre comfort food.

We explained to our hosts our past experience with the restaurant and ATL and discovered they too had been ATL regulars. The husband recalled that the first play he saw at Actors was DRACULA.

(Cue the weird music…perhaps an organ sting…perhaps the theme from JAWS…or that nee-nee-nee-nee music from TWILIGHT ZONE.)

All actors think they can play anything…anything. They can’t.

All actors know, if given the chance, they can play anything. They’re wrong.

The viewing public is protected from such hubris by the filter of directors who usually know better than to miscast actors in roles for which they are not suited. For example, though I know I could change people’s lives with my portrayals of Stanley Kowalski or Joan of Arc or Lassie’s “Timmy” (or Lassie for that matter), I also know my chances of being cast in those roles are minuscule. I think we all can agree the theatre-going world is made better by this protective filter (though, I’m tellin’ ya, I can scream “Stella” like a banshee).

However, sometimes the filter fails.

(Cue – a great disturbance in the Force.)

I had always wanted to play Dracula. In 1982 I got my chance.

The theatre company doing DRACULA, which will remain nameless, had been up and running for several years and had mounted impressive shows in impressive quantities. The core members of the group had just run off a string of productions and I suspect they were weary. The DRACULA project was turned over to an affable and bright young guy with little directing experience. None of the regular performers of the company participated as actors and were rarely seen during the rehearsal process. I think they were “taking a show off”. Mind you, these were the hardest working theatre folks in Lexington at that time, and theatre didn’t pay the rent or put food on the table. Taking time to find an income was a responsible business plan. Today, we call that “adulting”.

But it didn’t auger well artistically.

What did I care? I got to say those deathless (literally) lines.

(Cue the line – “Wolves. Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make.”)

<< Snickers from the audience >>

The show got a full-page spread in the newspaper with pictures of Dracula in repose on a crypt in the bowels of Morrison Hall at Transylvania University (Transylvania…sweet).

I wore my cape and my plastic fangs in the pictures…in the newspaper (sweeter and sweeter).

Just kill me now. Oh, wait. That won’t work. I’m a vampire.

(Cue the line – “There are far worse things awaiting man than death.”)

<< Guffaws from the audience >>

Far worse things than death? I should say so. There’s opening night.

I made my entrance. I swept into the room with my cape, my pizza-pan sized medallion, and my floppy hair.

(Cue the review – “Leasor looked like the Dave Clark Five about to be knighted by the Queen.”

The actor playing Dr. Seward was, I believe, experiencing his first opening night. His pivotal moment was at hand. He must effect the introduction of Dracula and his nemesis; Professor Van Helsing. Without this introduction, we have no play. As I said, I swe-e-e-pt into the room, confronted Dr. Seward, and waited for his line. The actor playing Seward had a look on his face that to my dismay read; “Wow! Look at that cape. I can’t believe I have such a great seat for this show.”

It was an impasse.

I glanced over to Professor Van Helsing being played by Paul Thomas; a very experienced actor and good friend. Paul had worked a pipe into his character early in the rehearsal process and now I could see why. Paul sat, staring resolutely straight ahead, puffing his pipe and enveloping himself in an obscuring cloud of smoke. Occasionally, stray puffs of smoke would rise straight up. Being fluent in smoke signals, I got the message; “You’re on your own, Buster.” I made a mental note to review our friendship.

Mental note…that was it!

I lifted my arm slowly and placed my index finger over my eyebrow. I squinted my eyes in my best Johnny Carson/Karnak manner (it’s as good as my Stanley Kowalski). I stretched my index finger toward the cumulus-nimbus formerly known as Paul and intoned; “Ah-h-h-h, Professor Van Helsing, even in Transylvania we have heard of you.”

The theatre went silent. The moment was ridiculous. But it was early in the evening and the audience had to decide quickly;

  1. Accept the foolishness for the sake of having a night in the theatre…such as it was, or
  2. Flee the building for the nearest bar.

Downtown cocktail opportunities in 1982 were not as lively as they are today. I think that may have saved us.

(Cue the line – “I never drink…wine.”)

<< Angry murmurs from the audience >>

The script was poor.

The cast and director were mostly inexperienced.

I was dreadful……and not in the right way.

(Cue the review – “Children might enjoy Leasor’s performance as he looks like he’s going to break into a song-and-dance at any moment.”)

It was a healthy lesson for me.

Unfortunately, a lot of people paid for my education.

They should have been better protected.

(Cue the line – “The spider spinning his web for the unwary fly… The blood is the life.)

<< Pitchforks in the audience are unsheathed and the box office is stormed for refunds >>

By the end of each night’s performance, the audience was probably feeling like the unwary fly and they were certainly out for blood.

(Cue the sigh.)

Sigh.

If you saw this show, I owe you five dollars. The check is in the mail.

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