Dracula vs. the Wolfman

One night about a week ago, early in the performance of “Dracula vs. the Wolfman” at Salt Lake City’s Off Broadway Theatre, the Igor-like Renny Field (Russell Peacock) was applying for a job as Count Dracula’s (Eric Jensen) assistant. Dracula is standing at the top of the stairs, and Renny is down below. He pulls out his resume and is about to walk up the stairs to hand it to Dracula, when suddenly Dracula makes the paper levitate up to him instead. The audience was very impressed and made “Oooh!” noises. Dracula turned to them and said: “Pretty spiffy, huh, folks?”

The reason I specify that this happened “one night about a week ago” is that I have no idea if Dracula will say the same thing the night YOU go. In fact, he probably has no idea either. See, the Off Broadway Theatre is also home to the Quick Wits — an improvistaion troupe. And with many of the “Dracula vs. the Wolfman” cast members being taken from the Quick Wits ensemble, well, improvisation in the carefully scripted show becomes a part of life.

The night I was there, Peacock forgot a few of his lines and had to have Jensen whisper them to him. The audience was in hysterics. Later, Joan Johnson, as Olga DePsychic, forgot one of hers and had to make something up. Again, hysterics. A picture fell off a wall and Jensen danced around with it for a minute; Alexis Owen, as Mary Talbot (the Wolfman’s wife), accidentally knocked some candles over as she went upstairs, causing Peacock to ask her to “try not to knock over the scenery as you go up”; and when someone accidentally made a crashing sound backstage, Jensen remarked, “That’s some pretty big mice we got over there.” All hysterics.

But don’t worry — there’s plenty of funny stuff in the actual script, too, even if nothing goes wrong. The play, written by Jensen and Bob Bedore (who plays Jack Talbot, the Wolfman), is a loony Halloween farce, full of pop culture references, song parodies, terrible puns and perfectly executed one-liners. The plot has newlyweds Jack and Mary Talbot vacationing in Transylvania, where they wind up staying in the old Frankenstein Castle, which is now a hotel run by Dracula — only he’s posing as Dr. Acula, a psychiatrist, and Renny is his bellhop/secretary. (Absolutely the funniest thing I’ve heard in the last year is said by Renny during one of his free psychiatric sessions with Dracula. It has to do with a dream he had recently; you’ll know it when you hear it.)

A policeman, Harry Timms (Dave Hunsaker), warns the Talbots that both a werewolf and a vampire have been terrorizing the neighborhood recently. Jack doesn’t know yet that he, himself, is the werewolf; all he knows is that he disappears at night and doesn’t remember where he goes. And no one knows that Dr. Acula is the vampire — but Willy Van Helsing (Jeremy Thompson), grandson of the famous vampire hunter Dr. Van Helsing, suspects it strongly, and is determined to prove himself.

Dr. Acula falls in love with Mary Talbot — seems she reminds him of “Hazel,” an old lost love from years ago. So he wants to dispose of Jack so he can have her to himself, and we soon learn there’s more to the fight than that: Werewolves are apparently one of the few creatures strong enough to do battle with a vampire. And so there’s a showdown.

Along the way, there are fantastic comedy performances by every single cast member. Jensen, as Dracula, is a stand-out, making Dracula a funny and sarcastic character. Adding to the humor is that he looks and sounds so scary — making it that much funnier when he does something ridiculous.

Peacock’s Renny character is also amazing. Peacock has a shaved head and a goatee, making him look like a cross between the Three Stooges’ Curly and the guy from Metallica. The character’s voice is by itself chuckle-inducing, and Peacock throws himself so thoroughly into the part that everything he does becomes funny.

Many of the jokes in the play fall flat. Some of them are downright terrible; others are merely dragged out too far. But when you’re doing 12 jokes a minute, it doesn’t matter if even half of them fail — give it 10 seconds, and another one will come to replace it. I honestly can’t remember which jokes I groaned and rolled my eyes at; all I remember now are the ones that were home runs.

There is some genuinely biting satire here and there (“We must destroy that which we don’t understand!” someone yells in imitation of the local, easily frenzied townspeople), as well as some great physical comedy, and of course the inevitable improvising.

Three things keep this show from being perfect. First, there don’t seem to be any microphones onstage, and the theater is rather deep. I was in the second row and didn’t have any trouble, but it was often quiet — I’m guessing people beyond the ninth or 10th row couldn’t hear everything (and this is a show where you WANT to hear everything). Second, at 2 1/2 hours, the show is too long. Even for a “regular” comedy, that’s long — and for a slapstick, farcical parody-type comedy, it’s WAY too long. The first act drags a bit in places; the pace is stepped up big time after intermission. And third, the show occasionally gets too cute for its own good, with too many references to itself. Having the characters “know” they’re in a play, and letting them refer to the scene changes and the audience is funny once or twice, but this show does it about a dozen times.

These are minor concerns, though. “Dracula vs. the Wolfman” is overall clever, fresh, energetic, and hysterically funny. It’s the best Halloween comedy of the season. Don’t miss it.

What a swell surprise this show was! We went to it with no idea how it was going to be. I suspected it would be something the Desert Star Playhouse -- lame jokes, silly parodies, and a few smiles. It turns out the Off Broadway Theatre's show ARE like Desert Star's in their basic concept -- musical parodies of familiar stories, full of puns and sight gags -- only they're much, much funnier. This "Dracula" parody was truly hysterical, and I was glad I stumbled across the Off Broadway Theatre. Later shows at that theater didn't measure up to this one, but were generally pretty good.