Reginald Edmund's new play appears to share plot threads with a blaxploitation horror flick of the same name (and a top-grosser in 1972, by the way), but this script is firmly set in the new millennium. Edmund takes his cues more from schlub-turned-hero tales (think Shaun of the Dead) than all the iterations of Bram Stoker’s caped and tortured biter, or even the more recent, sparkly spawn of the Twilight series.
This story, set in Minneapolis, is quite simple: Franklin Park (Charles Gardner) drives a Geo Metro and is in love with his girlfriend, Nicollet (Kyra Morris), an upwardly-mobile professional who’s moving up more than her boyfriend, who’s borrowing cash to get his venture as a professional prankster off the ground. In the meantime, Franklin and Nicollet—who's been dreaming about a sinister attraction—meet Mufasa (Johnathan Wallace), who turns out to be more than someone named after a Disney character. He’s a prince—an ancient African one—who quotes Prince, and, more importantly, a vampire who gets out of Nicollet’s dreams and, without much ado, into her bedroom.
But hold on—what is a “professional prankster?” I might have missed that information in the volley of monologue and dialogue unleashed at the start of the show, but the nature of Franklin’s career choice remains unclear since we’re never given more than this information. The character’s relationships are firmly established—and nicely fleshed out by the actors in distinct moments, especially between Franklin and his buddy Colfax, portrayed by Antoine Pierre Whitfield with such an impeccable, funny combination of “told-you-so,” quaking fear and vulgarity that he nearly steals the show.
But the unfolding of those relationships, and of Franklin’s tale and the inevitable posse of the bitten and now-undead that comes with this territory, gets snarled in so many words (and some pretty bad wigs). The play talks so much, and Ilesa Duncan’s production sprints so hard to keep up, that it doesn’t find the rhythm and speed of its parody until well into the night. There are amusing moments, such as Franklin’s comically-timed urges to update Facebook, but initially the production seems a vehicle for jokes and one-liners. Once the characters come together in a final quest to slay the villain, so does the comedy. Blacula is a creature that gets livelier as its characters become deader.