If the spectacle of a rich and famous man repeatedly forcing himself upon innocent women freaks you out, stay away from the Kiggins Theatre on Thursday night.
The world’s most famous vampire will be in the house, doling out his usual unwelcome-yet-irresistible advances: entering ladies’ chambers and sinking his fangs into their flesh.
“Dracula,” perhaps the greatest horror story of them all, first appeared as a novel by the Irish writer and theater manager Bram Stoker in 1897. His novel follows the adventures of a small group of people who, having failed to block the vampire’s journey from Translyvania to England, must hunt him down on their home turf and destroy him.
Reviews praised Stoker as being an even more powerful and disturbing artist than Edgar Allen Poe, but his novel was not a blockbuster. It started gaining widespread fame via an unauthorized German film version and then a stage play, both called “Nosferatu.” Stoker’s widow sued. The reputation of her late husband’s book grew even faster.
In July 1938, radio dramatist Orson Welles adapted “Dracula” for the debut of his new weekly CBS Radio playhouse, “The Mercury Theater on the Air.” A few months later, on the night before Halloween, he succeeded in truly terrifying many gullible listeners with his realistic production of “The War of the Worlds.”
Portland radio dramatist Sam Mowry and his Willamette Radio Workshop have unleashed Martian invaders at the Kiggins during several recent Halloween seasons. But this year they’ll bring the vampire back to life instead. Or, that is, back to un-death.
“Dracula” is so effective because it invokes a sly and seductive menace that absorbs and transforms what it touches, according to John Barber, who teaches in Washington State University Vancouver’s Creative Media and Digital Culture program, and who first facilitated bringing Mowry and crew to the Kiggins years ago as part of a project called “Reimagined Radio.”
“The novel examines society’s fears of the unnatural during late 19th and 20th century Victorian society,” he said. “The focus of its many interpretations has come to be how abnormality can evolve from one source and infect the surrounding society with discord, misfortunes and evil. Dracula, the vampire, infects others with his evil.”
“We accept the idea of vampires today, but when the story was written, nobody knew what they were,” Mowry said. “Here’s this great story: Basically, a real estate salesman goes to close a deal in Eastern Europe — and instead this evil is loosed on the world.”
If you’ve never been to a Willamette Radio presentation, be advised that there are two ways to enjoy the show. One is keeping your eyes wide open and discovering what used to be behind the scenes: actors at their microphones, sound-effects technicians known as “Foley artists” creating sonic illusions with common household objects as well as specially designed gadgets. Seeing the methods behind sound-effects magic can be a big part of the fun.
But Mowry recommends closing your eyes, sometimes, and letting the grand illusion wash over you. Just open them again, quick, if you feel icy fangs on your neck.