‘Dracula Bites’ takes a hunk out of the South

Local son and mother playwriting team Duke Ernsberger and Virginia Cate tackle a lot of conceits in the Charlotte premiere of “Dracula Bites.” It is a play within a play. It brings a failed New York playwright to a rural southern playhouse.

In doing so, it pits an erudite connosieur of theater against a cast of local yokel actors. It’s good fare for a frivolous date night.

The stage is set with two white sheets draped over amorphous fixtures. The simple set of stairs and row of metal folding chairs beneath the sheets provide the lion’s share of scenery.

Ernsberger takes on the lead as Gregory Pastel, a director whose play has been rejected by all the New York theaters of import. He is travelling south with his lovely, country bumpkin wife Mora (Caroline Puschinsky).

She has arranged for his play about Dracula to be performed at the Valley Dale Playhouse, the locale where she had a standing childhood role in the Christmas production. She is financing the adventure with the proceeds of her job as a hand model.

The humor is mined by contrasts.

Nattie Sills, played by Sheila Snow Proctor, is thrilled to land a New York director (for free!) at her theater. Until, that is, she realizes his list of prop demands might be an affront to her rural Christian audience.

Pastel is excited to be granted free license to perform a literary production of Dracula based on Bram Stoker’s novel, until he finds out the cast has been chosen before his arrival. The cast is thrilled to be working with a New York director, but they don’t have any knowledge of theater.

The cast consists of the owner of a hardware store, the head of a funeral parlor, a strumpet and a good-looking neophyte performing as Dracula. What brings intrigue to the play is each of these characters also has a role in Dracula, and what they bring to their different roles is inconsistent, but delightful to watch unfold.

Robert Brafford plays Stewart Minor, who plays Dracula. The director dislikes him immensely, and tries his best to stump the actor with a series of directives of how his voice should sound.

Brafford nails every command. With the addition of Caroline Bower’s costume design in the final play within a play, he is great fun to hear and see.

Likewise, Dracula’s love interest, Lucy, is played by Marcie Levine Jacobs, who in the play outside of the play is Joyce Fickle.

Joyce is rather annoying. But her metamorphosis into Lucy is so melodramatic it borders on profound. James Flynn plays Mike Moorhead who plays Renfield. He is an excellent doofus in both roles.

Nathan Rouse’s comic sincerity is a positive influence on both his roles as Gus Timberlake the hardware guy, and Dracula’s foil, Jonathan Harker. The cameo of Mina by Donna Scott is delightful.

This is a lighthearted endeavor, with a few literary references thrown in for those who care. Actors will love the insider jokes. In this vampire crazy world, if you have the time to indulge, this is an amusing addition to the catalog.