Thursday, July 10, 2008


(Note: click on any picture to see it full-size.)

So. I was hoping to get some more website stuff done that day, but the rain came and then behind it came a thunderstorm, which meant that the computer, the Internet and so forth all got shut down
immediately to avoid getting fried by errant lightning. So I took advantage of this brown-out to spend some downtime putting together Dracula: A Toy Theatre By Edward Gorey, which I had hunted for and finally found, and then been unable to properly deal with because I'd gotten busy.

Toy theatres are pretty cool. Emerging with the rise of mass printing, these were originally sold at real performance or vaudeville theatres during the 18th and 19th centuries, and most of these were fairly elaborate
works of art and illustration. People took them home, put them together and performed their own little plays. Dracula showcases Edward Gorey's costume and set designs for the 1977 Broadway production of Dracula, which starred Frank Langella. Those of you who watch Mystery! are familiar with Gorey's work; the animated opening sequence is derived from his artwork.

The Gorey toy theatre includes three scenes, fifteen figures and props that you put together, plus a four-page booklet (more a pamphlet, actually) that outlines the basic action of the play and gives some background on Edward Gorey, all in a nice bookshelf-quality box. My familiarity with Dracula is not from the play, but mostly from Stoker's original novel and myriad movies, so I was kind of irritated that the female lead was Lucy Westenra, or rather Seward, as the play combines hers and Mina Harker's characters.** However, Mina writes a diary that composes half the novel, and if anyone has ever seen the beautiful if overwrought and somewhat ham-handed movie Bram Stoker's Dracula featuring Gary Oldman as Drac, then it's easy to call Lucy (played by Sadie Frost) the most obnoxious character, as she spends most of her onscreen time behaving like a total horndog and driving her suitors into various extended expressions of masculinity. Quincey Morris (Bill Campbell), presented in this movie as an Old West American, shows plenty of Ah-Luvs-Ya-Miz-Scawlet love, while Dr. Seward (Richard E. Grant) gets obsessive and shows Weird Geeky Intellectual Love, expressed by the scene where he shoots up with opium while giggling insanely and listening to hot classical music on his recording phonograph. Lord Godalming, played by Cary Elwes, is a stiff-upper-lip sort, so he doesn't do much besides be really British at her.

But I digress. The photo below shows the play props, all exquisitely and simply done, consisting of Lucy's Bed,
The Doctor's Couch, The Dank And Noisome Tomb,* and two Carpets For The Library And Boudoir. The Dank And Noisome Tomb was actually the easiest thing to put together, while The Doctor's Couch had me scratching my head and fumbling for a few minutes before I finally grokked how it was supposed to be folded.

The fifteen figures include the main characters: Jonathan Harker, Dr. Seward, Lucy Seward (who is Dr. Seward's daughter in the play), Professor Van Helsing, and Drac in various poses and costumes for the three acts that make up the play, plus Miss Wells the maid, the tortured and maddened mental patient and vampire stooge Renfield, and Butterworth, who is Renfield's keeper and generally looks like he'd like to beat the crap out of Renfield. As per the booklet, at the beginning of the first act, Mina has already been a light supper for Dracula, with plasma for afters.

All the costumes have a definite 1920's-30's Agatha Christie feel, which stands to reason since the 1931 Dracula with Bela Lugosi is pretty much in that time period. Still, the most curious of these were the figures for Act III, which (as per instructions) takes place in A Vault. I cannot see anyone going vampire hunting in evening dress.

There are three figures of Drac in different poses, which I dubbed Normal Drac (for when he's misleading people into thinking he's just an eccentric rich dude who lives in an old church and really likes his opera cape), Sleeping Drac (for those daytime naps after a night on the town), and Working Drac (pretty obvious). Sleeping Drac was a bit strange to me; I felt that instead of being in a stand like the others, there should be a tab-and-slot arrangement so it could fit on The Dank And Noisome Tomb for that added touch of realism.

A shot of the secondary characters: Miss Wells the maid, Renfield and Butterworth. I think Butterworth is a bit put out with Renfield.

After the props and figures were done, I did the scenery. This part was easy: you stand up the set pieces, fold down the floor and tape it together, then tape the three scenes together so that it forms a model that can be turned back and forth for each scene. I opted to leave the scenes separated, as I did not want Yet Another Dust-Catcher in my house, and wanted to store most of the stuff in the box. (I guess that Dank And Noisome Tomb will be a display piece.) I also reconfigured the floor taping so that a small crack was left in the floor seam, then taped both the top and underside of the floor, creating a hinge that made for easy refolding and storing in the box. A burnishing with the handle of my X-Acto knife made the invisible tape substantially more invisible.

Here is a shot of Act One, Dr. Seward's Library. As you can see, there is a repeated bat motif throughout the
scenery, suggesting the unseen presence of Dracula and Encroaching Evil.

Act Two, Lucy's Boudoir.

The bat motif gets really heavy in Act Three, A Vault. It would be hard to walk into this sort of place without having a "we're as doomed as doomed can be" feel, even if you're dressed in a snappy evening suit.

So there you go. At this point some imagination was bound to take over, so our last picture above is a scene from my own production of Dracula with set designs and costumes by Edward Gorey, in which an itinerant dragon, unimpressed with the cardboard performances of the actors and distressed by the liberties taken with Stoker's original work, seeks to dismantle the production in the middle of the third act. Further highjinks are sure to ensue.

*No, it really is called that on the back of the box.

**This same type of compression also happens in the theatrical version of
Frankenstein, which I have read, and which has no monster creation scene and confines the lab to a single door on the stage. Sorry, but if I was directing it we'd have that laboratory set and that creation scene, and the audience would just have to hunker down. Some things are sacred.

Special thanks to Claudia and Charlie White, who let me use their digital camera and helped with this photo essay.