Local director returns to the tomb of ‘Dracula’

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First Posted: 2/4/2014

The last time Lou Bisignani directed a stage version of “Dracula,” he typed up his script – on a typewriter.

And that was the second time Bisignani was taking the story to the stage, with a production in the early 1970s with the Abington Players being his first venture. He’ll now complete the hat trick and put the show on yet again with Actors Circle at Providence Playhouse in Scranton this week and next.

The 1970s version ran along the lines of the movie that starred Bela Lugosi, and at the time, Bisignani didn’t pay much attention to the story. It took a Frenchman in the BBC’s 1976 TV series “Count Dracula” for Bisignani to get sucked in.

“I was just so taken with it,” he recalled of his viewing of the show that starred Louis Jourdan. “It was so beautifully done. I really got into it.”

Though Bisignani never read the Bram Stoker novel that spurned countless renditions of the main character, he researched it as thoroughly as possible and staged it in 1985 with Actors Circle. While looking to stage another play recently, he noticed a trend in pop culture.

“Everywhere you look there are vampires and zombies,” he observed with a laugh, “so I thought this would be the perfect time to resurrect this show in particular.”

Though it will not be without changes, and his script has gone through many over the years.

“When I looked at the Lugosi movie that first time I was writing, I realized it pretty much just took the name ‘Dracula’ and that was it; it was nothing like the book.”

“Now 30 years have gone by since the second time I did it and I’ve seen a lot of Dracula movies, yet still haven’t read the novel, and I thought, ‘Wow, even the Jourdan version is not accurate.’ So I set out to make changes and make it as close to the book as I could.”

Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” tells the story of the famed vampire and his attempt to move from Transylvania to England. Along the way, he encounters a group of people who make it very difficult to do so, led by Professor Abraham Van Helsing, a vampire hunter. Other characters include Jonathan Harker, an English solicitor who travels to Dracula’s castle for the real estate transaction; Mina, Harker’s fiancée (played by Johanna Ferbrage); Lucy Westenra, Mina’s friend (played by Laura Miceli); and Dr. Jack Seward, a former student of Van Helsing, among many others.

As Bisignani transferred his typewriter-produced script to the computer, he edited the story and made it what people will see on stage in the coming weekends.

The role of the Count was an easy one to fill. Bisignani met David Schulte, a high school teacher in Scranton, and was drawn first to the way he looked.

“He had a knob of hair at the bottom of his neck,” he said of the first time he saw him. “When he takes it down, he has hair that’s curly and black and down to his chest. When he comes to that window on stage… he’s very ominous looking.”

Of course, through all adaptations, the Count’s appearance is extremely important, as he’s actually seen as seductive and gorgeous, despite his lethal nature.

Bisignani said that’s one of the reasons “Dracula” has worked so well over time.

“There is a bit of romance, such as between Jonathan and Mina, and the whole story is also a little erotic; people are drawn to vampires, and to Dracula.”

Bisignani also lucked out in casting with Miceli, who he describes as a “vampire lover extraordinaire.”

“She showed up to tryouts with fangs on,” he said with a laugh. “She knows the book very well, so she’s my book expert.”

The cast is made up of 21 people, many of which hold multiple roles thanks to Bisignani’s need to allow those in small roles to appear on stage more than once. This also makes it interesting off-stage.

“I mean, with 21 people in the cast and a number of them doubling and triples their roles, well, my costume lady wants to kill me,” Bisignani noted with a laugh.

It’s not as much a problem as one would think, as head of costumes Carol Arena has worked with Bisignani before. She and Carol Davis, who does backstage work, help to keep the actors moving on and off stage freely, changed costumes and all.

Though the play is a dark one (both in mood and stage lighting), Bisignani said there’s some humor imparted throughout.

“A lot of people die in this. No one wants to see a play that is just grindingly depressing, so I threw some humor in there.”