Back in the olden days of the mid-20th century, when Universal Studios ruled the horror movie empire, the most frightening of its monsters was Bela Lugosi as the bloodthirsty Transylvanian Count Dracula.
It's been a long time since, and vampires have been supplanted by zombies as the primary pop culture fiends, but now Drac's back, haunting the stage of Golden West College in a full-throated, handsomely mounted production.
“Dracula,” created by Bram Stoker and adapted for the theater by Steven Dietz, is given a truly haunting and mesmerizing production by director Tom Amen, employing the superlative technical artistry of set designer Tim Mueller. The one unfortunate note: The Oct. 14 performance is the finale in a brief, two-weekend run.
The fearsome title character doesn't make an appearance until midway through the first act, but his handiwork is grimly displayed in the personage of the bat guano-crazy Renfield. Patrick Peterson rants and rages in this captive character as a chilling depiction of a soul in torment.
The play's two heroines are given fine enactments by Carolyn Feres (Mina) and Katherine Heflin (Lucy). Heflin gets to strut her dramatic stuff with a vengeance after giving her midnight visitor a taste of what he craves most — her blood.
Count Dracula himself is rendered with reserve and sophistication — but ever in control and command — by Lawrence Hemingway, who avoids the Lugosi-like menace in favor of a more silkily subtle form of subjugation.
Alex Jean delivers a strong performance as Jonathan Harker, Mina's beau, who unwittingly paves the vampire's way to England. Matthew Cobb deftly underplays Lucy's suitor, Seward, who struggles to unravel the mystery.
Finally, the veteran vampire hunter Van Helsing arrives and starts playing for high stakes — through the heart. Scott Keister is strong and insistent in this role, steadfast in his astonishing demands.
Atmospheric eeriness is provided by a cadre of five “demons,” garbed like mummies, who silently appear whenever evil is imminent. They're joined by “vixens” Lynne Pham and Marisa Shlictman, who surface as sexual predators and supply a sensual feel to the production.
Powerfully performed and directed, “Dracula” returns the horror genre to its roots in this all-too-brief re-enactment of a classic legend at Golden West College.
Tom Titus reviews local theater.
IF YOU GO
Where: Golden West College, Huntington Beach
When: Oct. 11-13 at 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 14 at 2 p.m.
Cost: Tickets are $12 to $16.