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New York Theater

Land of the Undead

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Notable for its effective use of story-theatre techniques, Land of the Undead is a vivid vest-pocket production looking for a new dimension or two in its well-worn story. Although it can't quite overcome the material's clanging familiarity, if you feel the need for yet another visit with Dracula, it should fill the bill nicely.

Or, rather, half the bill. The 65-minute show tells only of real estate agent Jonathan Harker's visit to Transylvania to sell an English country house to the vampire count. It's the first part of a two-part project being developed by Off-Off-Broadway theatre company Rabbit Hole Ensemble; the second part's planned for summer.

Stanton Wood's script melds elements from the Bram Stoker novel of 1897 and director F. W. Murnau's 1922 German silent film Nosferatu. Murnau couldn't get rights to the novel and therefore shifted names, places, and certain happenings, and Wood dubs his count Nosferatu. The makeup for the count -- played with all the appropriate creepy malignancy by Arthur Aulisi -- mirrors the Murnau movie, with egglike head, hollowed-out eyes, and spidery fingers. Wood also focuses on the strong bond of love between Harker and his wife, Mina, whose concerns over his safety travel through space to save him from Nosferatu's fangs and the seductive prowess of Morana, Nosferatu's rapacious sister. Yes, the count's given a sister, vigorously portrayed by Laura Bozzone.

Following story-theatre aesthetic, the text neatly blends narration into dialogue, and the production, under the seamless direction of Edward Elefterion, proceeds with minimal props, less scenery, and total seriousness. Harker and Mina are brought sympathetically to life as two responsive bundles of nerves by Paul Daily and Katie Curri.

Doing fine work as a chorus, Danny Ashkenasi, Emily Hartford, and Dan Rice voice Harker's thoughts, contribute sound effects, and enact various other characters, including an overworked horse. The ever-shifting lights by Kevin Hardy add immeasurably to the storytelling.

Presented by Rabbit Hole Ensemble and The Next Step, the Midtown International Theatre Festival Development Series,

at Where Eagles Dare Theatre, 347 W. 36th St., NYC.

March 12-21. Mon.-Wed., 8 p.m.

(212) 868-4444 or www.smarttix.com.

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