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'Dracula' amuses 

Just after I started writing about the beautiful drive down to Naples, New York, where the Bristol Valley Theater presents light summer fare in a charming theater, I looked at my review from last summer and found that I said all that. I was kindly trying not to emphasize that show's amateurism. In the show I saw this year, however, the acting is more competent and honest, the production is better-looking, and the play is an old favorite.

            Bob Hall and David Richmond's theatrical off-Broadway hit, The Passion of Dracula, has fun with Bram Stoker's Dracula without following its story very faithfully. Once again we hear Count Dracula say, "I never drink... wine." Nonetheless, those who fortify themselves with the product of BVT's Season Producer, Widmer Wine Cellars, are likely to have a good time watching this spirited production.

            No one expects to take a play titled The Passion of Dracula seriously. Hall and Richmond's script has considerable humor, and BVT's cast find much in it without annoyingly playing down to the audience or pathetically trying too hard to be funny and therefore failing. Fortunately, those in the lead roles have a deft touch and a sufficient suggestion of sincerity. If there's any fault in the tone, it's the rather solemn ending, which would benefit from a brighter touch of self-congratulation at the defeat of the evil vampire.

            Jim Ditmars as Professor Van Helsing and Richard Waddingham as Count Dracula manage consistent accents that pass for authentic-sounding, though I'm not prepared to say authentic what (certainly not Dutch or Transylvanian). The others mostly sport several accents each, none as hilarious as Pam Feicht's "Viennese," though I was most entertained by Tyson Jennette's butler, Jameson, who wears a long ponytail of dreadlocks outside his vest. Jameson's accent is all over the place: "bringin' beck in a motocah," "brahndy won't lahst the wintuh," "fer moi part," and a lot of "sahs" for "sirs." George W. Hamlin, IV's Dr. Seward mostly speaks with a normal American accent. J. Kevin Tallent has something that resembles an English accent as Lord Godalming, but it comes and goes, and sometimes wanders off to a neighboring "coontry."

            Mark Kobak's set is very attractive, though its color --- something between that of adobe and terra cotta --- looks like Santa Fe, not England. Jennifer Harrison's costumes don't really fit the period or wearers, but they are colorful and funny. The less said about the tech and lighting, the better.

            But who cares? It all looks pleasant and plays fairly compellingly, and offers us a good time. Waddingham is quite commanding as Dracula, and Ditmars is entirely persuasive as his nemesis, Van Helsing. Meredith R. Van Scoy plays the heroine-victim Wilhelmina charmingly, and manages not to seem silly when she has to snarl and shriek under the vampire's spell. Even the foolish special effects that the spoken introduction, the program, and publicity make much of are just part of the joke and accepted good-naturedly. I have neighbors whose porches at Halloween sport more impressive special effects. And the shrieks that come when kids step on my Halloween mat are a lot more scary than those rib-tickling recorded howls we hear occasionally from offstage (ah-woooo!). Remember SCTV's Count Floyd?

            What did bother me a little was David Henderson's inept direction and its pointless anachronisms that have no effect --- comic or otherwise --- except distraction. Why not omit Wilhelmina's line asking Jonathan Harker to remove his coat when he isn't wearing one? On his first visit to a distinguished English household in 1911, this journalist who insists that he's an Oxonian removes his jacket and converses in his vest and shirtsleeves with the young lady he's just met. That sort of slip-up raises the suspicion that all those other howlers were not comical intentionally.

The Passion of Dracula by Bob Hall and David Richmond plays Wednesday through Sunday through July 27, at Bristol Valley Theater, 151 South Main Street, Naples. Showtimes are Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m., and Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday at 2 p.m. The Saturday, July 26, show is sign-interpreted. Tix: $22 (discounts for seniors, students, and groups). 374-6318, www.bvtnaples.org.

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