The New York playwright who arrives at the rural Valley Dale community theater to direct Dracula Bites, the world premiere of what he calls a "major new American work," oozes pretentiousness and has a mysteriously affected British accent (even though he is from Yonkers) and an inflated ego.
He is the kind of director who includes a quotation from his mom in the playbill, which is included as a farcical prop inside the actual playbill for Dracula Bites at Studio Players, the play that is an irresistibly season-opening play-within-a-play.
The plot falls into the category of theater about theater, but its comedy is accessible to anyone who has heard of Dracula or has worked in a frustratingly dysfunctional collaborative environment.
The opening scenes — a big-time theater expert descends from on high to culturally illuminate the simple rural folk — lay the groundwork for the escalating hilarity that reaches a crescendo in the second act.
We quickly learn that George Pastel, the smarmy and annoyingly over-elocuting director played with smooth panache by Timothy Hull, is not the theatrical heavyweight he thinks he is. Utterly delusional about his abilities and qualifications, Pastel hasn't produced any theater since a class in college.
The cast is made up of mediocre actors, including Greg Waltermire's Gus Timberlake, who owns a hardware store and has more enthusiasm than skill. When rehearsals begin, Pastel makes dizzyingly terrible directorial choices. He declares that "his" Dracula (which he pronounces with an open vowel: Dracoola) will not wear a cape, and instead will don a long, gray beard and wig, 6-inch fingernails and thigh-high knee boots so tight that his lead actor, Stewart Minor (Alex Maddox), moves more like Frankenstein than the famous vampire. Add Pastel's insistence on his lead actor adapting a gravelly, guttural "300-year-old" voice, and Minor's Dracula is suddenly an incomprehensible raving madman who walks like a robot.
It's in the physical absurdities of Pastel's abysmal direction that Maddox strikes comedy gold. From the over-eager excitement in his eyes before the first rehearsal to the incredulity at Pastel's demands, Maddox wholly embraces the ridiculousness of the situation, earning wave after wave of laughter from Thursday's opening-night audience.
Maddox and Hull may trade the spotlight as Pastel and Minor/Dracula, but supporting cast members Courtney, Greg and Kelsey Waltermire, Mary Anne Mathews, Kimberly Burris, Victoria Barnes and Spencer McGuire each deliver spirited and humorous performances.
Director Ross Carter delivered a witty, entertaining curtain speech and deserves praise for shepherding a play with the same qualities.
IF YOU GO
What: Studio Players' season-opening production of the Duke Ernsberger and Virginia Cate comedy, directed by Ross Carter
When: 8 p.m. Sept. 20, 21, 27, 28, Oct. 4 and 5; 2 p.m. Sept. 22, 29 and Oct. 6
Where: Studio Players' Carriage House Theatre, 154 W. Bell Ct.
Tickets: $21. Available at (859) 257-4929 or Studioplayers.org.