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Curtain Up: Bite Me


By Dan Frankel

Published Jul 1, 2007 8:00 AM

Copyright © Courtesy of Theatricum Botanicum

"She then rose and dried her eyes and, taking a crucifix from her neck, offered it to me ..."

Awakening each night at 2 a.m. for strange fits of work that would last until the dawn, Ellen Geer spent the winter with the words of Bram Stoker, paring his 560-page Dracula down to about 77 pages of script — fit for a bite-size, two-hour stage performance, she says, that will allow a whole new generation to experience the texture-rich language of the 1897 horror classic.

Dracula at the Theatricum Botanicum

Dracula at the Theatricum Botanicum. July 28-September 29. Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum at 1419 Topanga Canyon Blvd. Tickets: $20-$25 for adults, $15-$18 for students and $8 for children. Children under 5 are admitted free. Contact (310) 455-3723 or for more information.

"It was very weird — it never happened to me before, and it scared me to death," says Geer, the longtime artistic director of Topanga Canyon's Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum and visiting associate professor of acting at UCLA's School of Theater, Film and Television, of the off-hours work schedule she suddenly found herself experiencing.

Opening July 28, the Theatricum Botanicum amphitheater's production of Dracula will offer a unique stage approach to Stoker's novel, blending the performance of actors with live voice narration featuring the author's original words and phrasings.

"It's a wonderful horror story, but we also want a new generation to realize how beautifully written this book was," says Geer, matriarch of the acclaimed theater founded by her late father (perhaps best known as Grandpa on The Waltons). "We did this with The Hunchback of Notre Dame two years ago, and it was a wonderful experience for all of us."

Theatricum Botanicum company veterans will fill the ranks of the alive and undead, a cast that includes a host of what Geer affectionately terms "UCLA brats" — alumni Aaron Hendry '97 (playing the role of Jonathan Harker), Mike Peebler M.F.A. '01 (Dr. Seward), and Geer's own daughter, Willow Geer '03 (Mina Harker), just to name a few.

Geer has also enlisted composer Marshall McDaniel, fresh out of school in Stuttgart, Germany, to compose an original score featuring various choral arrangements.

"Maybe all of this will excite this generation to read the book," Geer adds.