I was the one in the audience who liked the TR Warszara and Teatr Narodowy production of NOSFERATU that closed Saturday night at BAM. The show was in Polish, with English supertitles, and presented by an ensemble cast whose names (some of which have showed up in press reports) were not in the program. The play was written and directed by Grzegorz Jarzyna and is a modernization of Bram Stoker’s DRACULA rather than of the Murnau or Herzog film that shares its title. It ran for an hour and 50 minutes with no intermission. The score was by John Zorn. Magdalena Maciejewska’s set was spare and sumptuous at the same time.
The most memorable moment was when Mina, confronted to her core by a universe she believes to be godless, approached us with a tear-strewn, extraordinarily beautiful face, right before succumbing to the vampire in a bloody act of something like love. There was also a remarkable illusion produced with a scrim, when a winged aura seemed to surround Lucy after her transformation. Yes, this NOSFERATU had such instances, and, beyond that, a mood of attentuated dread. The actors wore those flesh-colored microphones that wrap around the face and try hard to be invisible, but not, as usually happens in American productions that use them, for the sake of audibility, but to permeate the space with the disquiet in their voices, to get into, along with the stark and flickering lighting, the open crannies of the mind.
Vampires mean a lot of things to a lot of people. In pop culture, they tend to be sexualized, the bearers of romantic obsession and transgressive desire; to the moralist of Stoker’s day (and ours), they desecrate the promised immortality of the Christian god; the post-modern secularist, by contrast, is horrified by the prospect of eternal boredom. And, indeed, one of the effects of Jarzyna’s aesthetic was to taunt those among us who fear boredom and desire constant, even if superficial, stimulation. The Lucy of the script despises the Dracula figure for having stopped centuries before to keep up with the times, and its Renfield is obsessed with atomic particles rather than flies. This NOSFERATU is about that sort of consciousness, and the sense that it is trapped between the biology of the bodies in which it resides and the universe of modern physics, whose take on time challenges the linearity upon which the average concept of eternal life would seem to rest.
It was not the Dracula that most of the audience expected, judging by the unusually vocal reactions I heard exiting the theater and walking toward the subway. I was the one who liked it, and remained silent. But I am sure that that is an exaggeration.