Saturday, September 17, 2011

Dracula! - Book and Play Review

Sometimes I feel a gentle nudge to read a particular book. This was the case with Dracula by Bram Stoker. I had never read the book. One of the ladies in my book group mentioned that it was going to be featured on Moody Bible Radio's Mid-day Connection Book Group Discussion (now there's a mouthful!). She mentioned, several times, that the host, Dr. Rosalie de Rosset felt that the book had value because of its clear designation of the struggle between good and evil. (If you go to Mid-day Connection's Book Group site, you can listen to an audio version of the hour-long discussion de Rosset led on September 1st).

Next, I saw a coupon in a flyer for discounted tickets to see the Indiana Repertory Theatre's presentation of Dracula. I think this clinched it. I found a friend to attend it with me and dashed out to find the book at a nearby library. Although our library had a normal version of the book, it was checked out and not due back prior to the performance. Thus, I drove to the next library over and managed to snag a gigantic volume called The New Annotated Dracula, edited by Leslie S. Klinger.

I'm not sure what I think about the book itself or the annotation by Klinger. On the one hand, I did clearly see de Rosset's point that the book carries a strong message about the allure of sin and evil and the necessity of fighting it by banding together for good against the power of evil. At the same time, the story often was a bit too much for me. It was just plain creepy at times (like when Dracula is forcing one of his victims to drink the blood from a scratch across his chest and then calling her his "winepress").

As for the annotation, I am equally conflicted. It was amazing to have so many notes at my disposal as I read through the novel. However, it was also overwhelming to have so many notes at my disposal as I read through the novel! I think my biggest beef with Leslie Klinger would have to be his use of a "gentle fiction ... that the events described in Dracula 'really took place' and that the work presents the recollections of real persons, whom Stoker has renamed and whose papers (termed the "Harker Papers"...) he has recast, ostensibly to conceal their identities."

What in the world was that all about??? As I was reading the notes, I kept encountering the subtle attitude that the events were real. It was really disturbing. It was only after I finished reading the whole thing, that I went back to the editor's preface and learned about his "gentle fiction." I must agree with other reviewers, on the Amazon site, who have said that it led to a whole host of extraneous and unnecessary notations which only muddied the trip through Stoker's Dracula.

Still, I did find the notes interesting and I was grateful for an academic treatment of the novel. It came complete with maps and history and numerous interesting tid-bits. The appendices were intriguing with things like a glossary of Whitby Dialect, a chronology of Dracula, "Dracula's Family Tree - full of descriptions of various treatments of the work, and an extensive bibliography. With all of that, the annotated book topped in at 613 pages! I didn't read all of the extra notations, but I did make use of them from time to time, despite feeling bogged down.

My most positive comments would have to be reserved for the play performed at the Indianapolis Repertory Theater. They used a script, by Steven Dietz, which I found to be fully faithful to Stoker's vision and tone in his book. I will admit, I was worried that it might have been doctored to emphasize the sexuality in the novel more than was warranted. Thankfully, that was not the case.

The play was brilliant! In fact, my favorite character was Renfield (the lunatic in Dr. Seward's asylum). He provided such wonderful comic relief. He was funny and tormented and amazingly brave (at one point he fled the stage with a live rat in his mouth - yuck, yuck, yuck!). The play kept with the language of Stoker's novel. Indeed, many of the phrases, invoking God's deliverance were used in the script. The evil was opposed with the wafers of the holy communion and with a glowing crucifix. Good triumphed over evil and you left feeling glad to have come.

It was a bit too gory in spots for me. They did a fine job of realistic portrayal of the blood, but it was difficult to watch. The special effects and sound effects were stunning. At one point, Dracula appears in a mist of smoke blown up by Renfield. From my angle of seating, I couldn't observe Dracula's final desmise as he turned into dust, but it must have been convincingly executed.

All in all, I'm glad that I took the time to read Dracula, even the annotated version. I'm especially thrilled that I took a chance and attended the performance (I don't believe many modern versions of this story - like the Twilight series - render the story as faithfully as Dietz did).

I appreciated several of the lines in the playbill. The artistic director, Janet Allen, wrote:

"Stoker's ability to place our proverbial fingers on the heartbeat of the tension between good and evil, between the power of Christianity and the power of the pagan, between science and faith, between human desire and social propriety, between sanity and insanity, between our attraction to and our repulsion from immortality, all account for the edge-of-the-seat feelings we get when watching a faithful retelling of this story. If the retelling does real justice to Mr. Stoker's novel, our sense of Dracula ricochets uncontrollably between abhorrence and allure."

She was right! The tension is palpable and this retelling does real justice to Mr. Stoker's novel!

And from Steven Dietz, himself:

"Most of the characters in Bram Stoker's Dracula spend the better part of the book trying desperately - with the absolute best of intentions - to keep secrets from one another. Their reasons have to do with safety, honor, respectability, and science ... but every secret buys the vampire in their midst more time. Every evasion increases the impossibility of anyone assembling the totality of the facts, the cumulative force of the information. Secrecy breeds invasion. Darkness begets darkness. It is this secrecy among the principal characters -heightened by the lack of third-person objectivity, since the novel consists entirely of personal letters, diaries, and news reports - that is the heart of the book's unique power. The objectivity so desperately needed by the characters is handed to the reader. A trans-continental jigsaw puzzle. A myriad of disturbing clues. And it falls to the reader alone to make the connections between these events."

Indeed, evil thrives in darkness. Although the dark elements made it difficult to appreciate reading, it still felt important to bring those dark elements into the light by reading (or watching the performance). Rather than making the evil appear harmlessly attractive, evil shrouded in apparent good looks and love (as modern renditions tend to), Dietz has faithfully produced a version that shows the evil for what it is and leads the audience to desire the good and holy. Kudos to Steven Dietz and kudos to the Indianapolis Repertory Theater!

1 comment:

Rosalie said...

I ran across your blog absolutely by accident and just wanted to say I appreciated your honest, careful analysis of what others have to say about the book, about the annotations, and about the play which I would like to have seen. Most versions I see reviewed take great liberties with Stoker's perspective and do not deal honestly good and evil.
Thank you-