SMITHFIELD — What happens when a New York City writer-director with high ideals agrees to work with a small-town theater troupe?
The answer is in the plot of the Neuse Little Theatre’s latest play: “Dracula Bites.” That’s pronounced “Dracoola.” Roll the “r.”
The comedy is NLT’s third show in a season of all comedies.
Director Tony Pender, who has been with the NLT since the late 1990s, said audience members won’t be able to leave the theater with a straight face. “It’s hysterically funny,” he said.
Pender said his cast couldn’t make it five minutes into the first read-through without breaking up. “Our rehearsals are going pretty well, but they’re running a little bit long because we keep cracking each other up,” he said.
“Dracula Bites,” written by Duke Ernsberger and Virgina Cate, is a play within a play. It’s set in fictional Valley Dale, N.C., where owner Nattie Sills is struggling to keep her community theater afloat. So she brings in Gregory Pastel, a New York City writer-director who thinks he has penned the perfect stage adaptation of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.”
Pastel has his own ideas for staging the play, including a sky-high budget and ridiculous theatrics, such as wolves in the audience. But when Pastel arrives, he learns the play has already been cast, forcing him to work with local talent and a shoestring budget.
“He has to deal with a community theater and community theater-level talent, and they have to deal with him and his hugely grandiose ideals,” Pender said.
Much of the play is about the theater company trying to bring the production together. The last two-thirds of the second act are the play within the play.
“You don’t find out what’s going to happen or how it ends up until the last two minutes of the play,” Pender said, and then it wraps up nicely.
Much of the humor comes from “watching people who have the best intentions and the best ideals try to do something that they just aren’t capable of,” Pender said. “It’s like having your little sister try to figure skate in the Olympics when she’s 6. God bless her, she’s going to try; she’s going to fall. It’s going to be funny.”
“Dracula Bites” includes many North Carolina references. For instance, the character playing Dracula is from the N.C. School of the Arts. The play also leaves on Dracula stone unturned, referencing not only Stoker’s book but also the Gary Oldman movie and every Dracula adaptation in between.
Keith Parrish of Goldsboro plays the director, Pastel. “He is bringing these ideas to this small community theater in North Carolina, and a lot of what he has in mind just doesn’t fit in with the sensibilities of the local populace or common sense a lot of times,” Parrish said.
Parrish said the play is a hoot and will cheer up anyone in a bad mood. “It’s a story of someone trying to do something he thinks is important, and it turns out it gets turned around completely,” he said. “It ends up OK in the end but not in the way he expected it to.”