The story of Count Dracula is played for laughs, not chills, in Desert Star Playhouse’s production of “Dracula — The Vampire: He Loved in Vein.”
In typical Desert Star fashion, “Dracula” is a contradiction of itself. It’s full of bad puns, cheesy jokes and hoary vaudeville-type routines — but then, just when you think the play doesn’t realize how dumb it is, something truly clever and original pops up and you realize the play DOES know how dumb it is. In fact, it’s revelling in that dumbness, and it wants you to do the same.
This is a show that has Dracula (Scott Holman) saying things like “She’s down for the COUNT” and “You tried to double-CROSS me.” Most jokes are used as blunt objects with which to hit you in the head, with musical director David Len Allen using the piano for punctuation — just in case you didn’t realize it was a joke, he’ll trill some of the high notes for you, cartoon-style, as if to say, “Isn’t that funny?!”
And most of the time, it is, though you might admit it only grudgingly. There are references, mostly superfluous, to the Clinton scandal, “Titanic” and of course the I-15 construction. (I have seen the last eight or so productions at Desert Star, and I have yet to see one that did NOT have an I-15 joke.) It’s all endearing, cute and often very, very funny.
The play moves a bit more slowly than most Desert Star productions, taking place mostly in one location — the home of Dr. Seward (Paul Thomas Murphy). His dim wife Mina (Holly Casper) is rather upset at the recent strange behavior of her friend Lucy (Julie Ann Christensen), who has been taken under the spell of Dracula. (Everytime Lucy is referred to, by the way, Allen plays the theme from “I Love Lucy” — in a minor key. I don’t think the audience I was in ever caught the joke.)
Seward’s pal Dr. Van Helsing (Ben E. Millet) shows up to help, and he begins to suspect the work of vampires. He’s right, of course, and everything turns out pretty much the way it does in Bram Stoker’s original story, only it’s a little sillier here.
After the show is the “From ‘C’ to Shining ‘C’ Americana Olio,” a song-and-dance revue full of all-American songs and humor. The Olios are often the most amusing part of the evening at Desert Star, and this one features some of the best Clinton jokes I’ve seen anywhere (he sings “Devil with a Blue Dress” in reference to Monica Lewinsky, among other things). For a theater that delights in its own one-dimensional broad humor, the Clinton satire is clever enough to remind you that Desert Star KNOWS how goofy its shows are, and that they’re goofy on purpose. “Dracula” and the accompanying Olio amount to fun, family-friendly entertainment that lets your brain have the night off.
As I've mentioned in the commentary following some other Desert Star shows, I usually attended them with the same group of people: Joel Wallin and Lisa Clark, both from the Garrens; and Lisa's husband Chris. The four of us always had such a fine time at the Desert Star, whether the show was good are not. "Dracula" marked the first time in a while that the four of us had gone as a group. Either Chris or Joel had been unavailable at various other times, and there was a fifth party invited once or twice as well. Now it was just back to the four of us, with one very welcome addition: Chris and Lisa's new baby Miles. Miles was very good all during "Dracula," and Lisa didn't have to take him out of the theater even once. What a trouper.