Forward in Reverse

The Congress, when he gets there, seesaws him between post-Stoker movie-icon analysis and the medieval history of the real Vlad Drakula, who, far from being a vampire, is now viewed by Romanians as a bulwark against incursions from the Muslim east. As an American suggesting that Vlad's imperial line devolved into a family of Croatian smallholders, Drake is immediately put up by the media as a challenger to the exclusivity of the haughty professor hailed locally as Drakula's last living descendant. The metaphoric minefield he has to walk turns real in Act II, when, reunited with his surviving relatives in Croatia, he has to cross a literal minefield to get to the ruins of his grandfather's childhood home. As in Wilson's play, the images shift their tone, taking new meanings from new contexts. Possible descent from Vlad the Impaler can change one's views of gay life in Chelsea. Long for a solo, the piece wants pruning, and a few of the Serbo-Croat relatives require stronger acting definition, but these are small faults in a work so fresh in its mix of elements, in its discovery of hidden links between seemingly disparate topics. The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me was an essence of things that had gone before; the more personalized Son of Drakula seems to open new doors and map new connections.


Connections keep not getting made in Hollywood Arms, adapted from Carol Burnett's memoirs by herself and her late daughter Carrie Hamilton. Some of the disconnection's in the situation: an embittered grandmother, an alcoholic mother with failed dreams, and a gifted daughter who breaks free but can't shake her memories. Small-scale, sincere, and humane, the material doesn't need a lot of dressing up. If Burnett and Hamilton weren't the writers to give it full dramatic shape, they might at least have been left to do it simply and straightforwardly on an intimate stage, where its heartfelt plainspokenness could come through. Regrettably, stardom has other obligations. So we get a huge Broadway production, in a theater too large, on a set that dwarfs the actors, plus a lot of noise and hoke and what sounds like sitcom rewriting. And we get Harold Prince, in whose staging scenes just roll on, seemingly unpaced and going nowhere, with lots of dead air between the speeches.

David Drake in Son of Drakula: blood lines of thought
photo: Cary Conover
David Drake in Son of Drakula: blood lines of thought

Details

Book of Days
By Lanford Wilson
Signature Theatre
555 West 42nd Street
212-244-7529

Son of Drakula
By David Drake
Dance Theater Workshop
219 West 19th Street
212-924-0077

Hollywood Arms
By Carrie Hamilton and Carol Burnett
Cort Theatre
138 West 48th Street
212-239-6200

Which is too bad, because along with the material's inherent possibilities, Prince has at his disposal two wonderful actresses, Linda Lavin and Michele Pawk. Lavin's dry comedy is very urban-Northeastern for an Arkansas woman, but her target-shooting delivery never misses, and a better director could undoubtedly have brought her all the way into this role. The statuesque Pawk, who can convey glamour and falling-down drunkenness in the same moment, deserves better-sustained writing as well as direction; she holds your interest even though you never get a clue what makes her tick. Both Lavin and Pawk sing beautifully, too; the evening's worst cheat is the way it constantly starts them going in harmony and then fades out. If someone proposed an evening of Pawk and Lavin, on a bare stage, reading excerpts from Burnett's memoirs and singing '30s songs, I'd be all for it. The box office would be so good they'd probably have to transfer to the Cort, which I believe will soon be dark.

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