There's an old theatrical saying that goes something like, you can't hum the scenery, which means that the acting is more important than the staging.
I'd agree with that on general principles, except that in The Passion of Dracula, which runs through Nov. 15 at the Toledo Repertoire Theatre, John Suess' scenic design more than sets the stage for the melodramatic romp - it becomes a brooding portent.
All the action takes place in a library, where Gothic-arched bookcases that look like bat wings are installed in blood-red walls. The library, it turns out, is in an asylum run by Dr. Cedric Seward (Lewis Derr), who lives there with his staff members, Jameson the butler (Jim Jeffries) and Dr. Helga Van Zandt (Amanda Woods), and his ward, Wilhemina Murray (Audra McCabe), known as Mina.
Dr. Seward is in a stew over Mina, who is suffering from a strange wasting disease. He and Van Zandt have been unable to diagnose it, so they have called in a friend and colleague from the continent, Dr. Abraham Van Helsing (Stephen Berwind), to help.
Mina's disease is not their only problem. Three young women of the village have been mysteriously murdered in the last month, found with their throats torn out and drained of blood. The villagers, already jittery about the asylum in their midst, are up in arms about the frequent escapes of an inmate named Renfield (Peter Meyer), who is fond of eating flies. The local lord of the manor, Lord Goldalming (Ken Weiland), warns Seward he had better keep Renfield under control.
Into this turmoil come two strangers: Jonathan Harker (Tony Dickens), a reporter in pursuit of a good story, and a mysterious Transylvanian scholar named Count Dracula (Erik Hillenbrand).
The cast is uniformly delightful, with Jeffries getting some of the best lines as the bewildered butler. Berwind chews the scenery a bit as Van Helsing, but the role calls for that.
Director Jennifer Rockwood keeps the action moving and maintains a delicate balance between comedy and suspense.
The Passion of Dracula is a delightful show for the season, and the Rep cast and crew have obviously put their hearts, if not their blood, into the production.
“The Passion of Dracula” continues at the Toledo Repertoire Theatre, 16 10th St., through Nov. 15. Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $16, with a $2 discount for seniors. Information: 419-243-9277.
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