"Dracula" - Based on the Novel by Bram Stoker

A Full Length Play by Hamilton Dean and John L. Balderston

Count Dracula
Who is this new neighbor named Count Dracula?. Evening Standard

Bram Stoker wrote the novel Dracula in 1897. Although vampire legends existed before he wrote this book, Stoker created what has become the most well-known version of a vampire - a version that still persists through literature and film today. The play Dracula dramatized by Hamilton Dean and John L. Balderston was first copyrighted in 1927, thirty years after the publication of Stoker’s novel. By then, the world was familiar enough with Stoker's story and main character, but audiences could still be scared by and unfamiliar with the details of the notorious vampire's "life." A modern audience will enjoy this play out of nostalgia and a love its classic, campy, film noir feel, whereas the original audiences of the 1930s showed up for love of horror and a night of being frightened.

Production notes in the script include ideas for producers of Dracula:

  • Offer "faint checks" (like "rain checks") to audience members who faint from fright during a performance, giving them another ticket to return to see the show again when they are feeling stronger.
  • Employ a Red Cross nurse with a cot at each performance for audience members who get too frightened and need to lie down.

A modern day version of these performance events might be hosting a blood drive in the lobby and taking blood donations after the show.

The Play v. The Novel

The dramatization of the novel includes many changes to plot and characters. In the play version of Dracula it is Lucy Seward who is the victim of Dracula's nightly feedings and who comes close to becoming a vampire herself. And it is Mina who has previously suffered from and consequently died of blood loss due to Dracula's nightly visits. In the novel, their roles are reversed.

Jonathan Harker is Lucy's fiancé and instead of being young British solicitor held captive by Dracula in Transylvania, he is the future son in law of Dr. Seward who runs the sanatorium down the road from Count Dracula's recently acquired castle. In the play, Van Helsing, Harker and Seward need to track down and sanctify only 6 coffins filled with grave dirt instead of the 50 in the novel.

The entire setting for the play is Dr. Seward's library instead of the novel’s multiple locations in London, aboard ships between Great Britain and Europe, and in castles in Transylvania.  Most importantly, the time period of the play was updated to the 1930s to include technological advances such as the invention of the airplane that would allow Dracula to travel from Transylvania to England in one night to avoid the sun. This update accommodated the skepticism of a new generation and placed the audience in clear and present danger of a monster roaming their city in present time.

Dracula was written for performance on a small to medium stage where the audience can be close to the action in order to maximize fright. There is little to no romance and all of the special effects can be accomplished with minimal technology. This makes the play a strong choice for high school productions, community theatre and college theater programs.

Plot Synopsis

Lucy, Dr. Seward's daughter and Jonathan Harker's fiancé, is close to death from a mysterious illness. She needs constant blood transfusions and suffers from terrible dreams. At her throat are two red pinpricks, wounds that she tries to conceal with a scarf.

A young woman named Mina who was recently housed at Dr. Seward's sanatorium, suffered from the same sickness and then died.

Dr. Seward has called Jonathan Harker and Abraham Van Helsing to come and help his daughter. Van Helsing is an expert on strange illnesses and forgotten lore. After an encounter with a bizarre sanatorium patient named Renfield - a man who eats flies and worms and mice to absorb their life essence - Van Helsing examines Lucy. He concludes that Lucy is being stalked by a vampire and may eventually transform into a vampire herself if he, Dr. Seward, and Harker cannot kill the creature of the night.

Shortly after Van Helsing’s examination, Dr. Seward is visited by his new neighbor - an astute, worldly, and impressive figure from Transylvania - Count Dracula. The group slowly comes to realize that Count Dracula is the vampire stalking their beloved Lucy and others throughout London.

Van Helsing knows that 1.) a vampire must return to its grave by sunlight, 2.) any consecrated items such as holy water, communion wafers, and crucifixes are poison to a vampire, and 3.) vampires despise the smell of wolfsbane.

The three men set out to find six coffins full of grave dirt the Count hid in his properties in London. They corrupt the dirt with holy water and wafers so that Count Dracula cannot use them anymore. Finally the only coffin left is the one in the castle next to the sanatorium. Together they descend into the catacombs to sink a stake into the Count’s undead heart.

Production Details

Setting: The library on the ground floor of Dr. Seward’s London sanatorium

Time: 1930s

Cast Size: This play can accommodate 8 actors

Male Characters: 6

Female Characters: 2

Characters that could be played by either males or females: 0

Roles

Dracula appears to be around age 50, although his true age is closer to 500. He is “continental” in appearance and displays impeccable manners and decorum when he is in human form. He has the power to hypnotize people and command them to do his bidding. His prey develops strong attachments to him and actively works to protect him from harm.

The Maid is a young woman who devotes most of her time to Lucy. She is dedicated to her job as well as thankful to have a job in this economy.

Jonathan Harker is young and in love. He would do anything to save Lucy from her illness. He is fresh out of school and skeptical about the existence of the supernatural, but will follow Van Helsing’s lead if it means saving the love of his life.

Dr. Seward is Lucy’s father. He is a staunch disbeliever and is unwilling to believe the worst about Count Dracula until the proof stares him in the face. He is not used to taking action, but bravely joins the hunt in order to save his daughter.

Abraham Van Helsing is a man of action. He does not waste time or words and has strong convictions. He has traveled the world and seen things most people only hear about in myths and legends.

The vampire is his nemesis.

Renfield is a patient at the sanatorium. His mind has been corrupted by Count Dracula’s presence. This corruption has led him to eat bugs and small animals believing that their life essence will prolong his own. He can shift from behaving calmly normal to ravingly strange in the space of a few words.

The Attendant is a man of poor education and background who took the job at the sanatorium out of necessity and now deeply regrets it. He gets blamed for all of Renfield’s escapes and is spooked by the strange goings-on at the sanatorium.

Lucy is a beautiful girl who loves her father and fiancé. She is also strangely attracted to Count Dracula. She can’t resist him. In her moments of clarity, she tries to help Dr. Seward, Harker, and Van Helsing, but each night brings her closer to becoming a vampire herself.

Production Notes

Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston wrote 37 pages of production notes that can be found in the back of the script. This section includes everything from set design layouts to a lighting plot, detailed costume designs, blocking suggestions, and reproductions of newspaper promotional blurbs:

  • “In [Name of production company’s] treating of this weird farce as a mystery, they send the customary shivers of apprehension streaming down the back and ‘Dracula’ holds the audience nervously expectant.” - New York Times
  • “Nothing more blithely blood curdling since ‘The Bat.’” - New York Herald Tribune
  • “Should be seen by all who love their marrows jolted.” - New York Sun

Within the notes, the playwrights also provide advice on:

  • staging Dracula’s sudden entrances and exits whether or not a stage has a trap door
  • how to make the bat fly in and out of a scene using only a few pieces of wood, a wire coat hanger and some fishing line
  • how to work with the mouse that Renfield wants to eat. The playwrights recommend that it be a live mouse. They describe how the mouse could be kept in a cardboard box in the Attendant’s pocket and taken out by the tail in the first scene of Act II. They write, “this is a great effect, and should be helped out by the emotional fear of the Maid as she is standing on the chair, her skirts up.”

(Because the notes correspond to technology available in a 1930s production, they remain practical and easily implemented in a theater with a small budget or a high school stage or other venue without access to fly space or backstage area.)

The story of Count Dracula is so well-known today that a production of Dracula can be produced in the style of Film Noir or Melodrama and include many comedic moments. The main characters are unaware of who or what Count Dracula is for so long that it becomes humorous to an audience, despite the seriousness of the characters. There are many opportunities for a production to have fun and make exciting choices with this classic horror play.

Content Issues: Negligible

Samuel French holds the production rights for Dracula.