The addition of David Ford as the new Sam Evans has had an immediate and energizing effect on fellow Dark Shadows cast members, most notably with Louis Edmonds’ performance as Roger Collins.
Fresh off the Hartford Stage in a year-long run as Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, David Ford’s distinctly dramatic infusion of Tennessee Williams into his portrayal of Sam Evans has awakened a theatrical spirit in those among the cast who already had a strong background on the live stage.
Louis Edmonds for one got his start as a New York stage actor, working in regional theater and Off-Broadway before finally breaking through with a Broadway production of Candide in 1956. To work alongside an actor like David Ford must have been like going home, because he’s absolutely on fire in this episode, giving one of his best ever performances as Roger Collins, scene after scene.
Hereafter, when auditioning actors for new roles or as replacements for existing characters, the casting department will more and more be looking to New York City and regional theater for talent.
The arrival of David Ford represents a watershed moment on Dark Shadows, where fairly tame and ordinary melodrama has the potential to achieve the heights of high drama. This initial transformation will eventually pave the way for the casting of a certain Shakespearean actor in the role of a vampire.
But that’s months off still and, as yet, something unforeseen. One thing follows another, but only by chance – that’s the magic that made the run of the series one of a kind, and why Dark Shadows could only happen once.
For now, “the David Ford effect” is getting the production crew of Dark Shadows to rethink the show’s approach to acting and where they should be looking for the talent to add that extra spark and make scenes more riveting, with the actors themselves pulling out all the stops to move things up a notch by adding a more theatrical sense of drama to their performances beginning with today’s episode, making the pages of dialogue seem more alive and bringing to the character portrayals that one extra layer of fullness and depth.
“The character of Sam Evans will be played by David Ford.”
Dark Shadows is known mainly as a “vampire soap” to even those with only a passing knowledge or awareness of the original TV series that aired weekday afternoons between 1966 and 1971.
Before rocketing into the public lexicon as television’s first vampire series, there were five gradual transformations that took place without which the “Barnabas era” of Dark Shadows would not have been possible.
The most significant transformation is, of course, the arrival of Barnabas Collins in 1967. The precursor to Barnabas was the phoenix story, featuring a fiery goddess threatening to consume and destroy the lives of all those with whom she comes in contact. The phoenix was the first supernatural monster on Dark Shadows. Before this was the first appearance of a ghost in episode 70, which was preceded in episode 52 by a supernatural occurrence in the Collinwood drawing room where a book was opened as if by the hand of an invisible spirit. The first essential transformation occurs here in episode 35 with the acting department, as David Ford joins the cast in the role of Sam Evans, taking over for Mark Allen who last appeared in episode 22.
Burke Devlin is one of the more intriguing characters of Dark Shadows beginnings. You never really know if he’s a good guy or a bad guy. He gets on the right side of characters we like, especially Maggie and Sam Evans. On the other hand, despite appearances he seems insensitive with other characters we like, including Carolyn Stoddard, and derives amusement from antagonizing other characters we like, particularly Joe Haskell.
Still, you have to root for the underdog, and in terms of Burke Devlin that means Collinsport Inn vs. Collinwood mansion, Burke’s hotel room vs. the Collins family drawing room.
Episode 24 belongs to Burke Devlin, and is set exclusively on his “home” turf.
Not many realize it, but Dark Shadows very nearly imploded before it could even complete five weeks of its initial thirteen-week cycle.
Mark Allen, originator of the role of Sam Evans, a minor but essential character, has become a huge liability. He has made unwanted, inappropriate sexual advances during rehearsal toward two of the actresses. During the taping of episode 19, he assaulted child actor David Henesy in the dressing room area after catching the nine-year-old trying to write a nasty accusation on his dressing room door.
David Henesy has since walked off the show, and refuses to return until Mark Allen is off the show.
To the credit of Dan Curtis, series creator and executive producer, no one has complained directly to him about any of the actions said to have been perpetrated by Mark Allen. He has only heard of these allegations through an intermediary, his episode director Lela Swift. Technically it’s only hearsay, until one of the accusers makes a case to him directly and in person.
There are financial constraints to think of. Back in episode 16, Lela shamed George Mitchell (originator of the Matthew Morgan role) off the show and tried to do as much during the taping of episode 17 to Fred Stewart (who debuted as Collins family physician Dr. Reeves). Breaking contract with George Mitchell means that Dan has to pay Mitchell for an additional seven episodes guaranteed by his contract for the first thirteen weeks. If he breaks contract by firing Mark Allen, then he’ll have to pay for another ten episodes. Most likely, he would have to pay for these broken contracts out of his own pocket, since the limited weekly budget for daytime programming doesn’t cover such unforeseen expenses.
But David Henesy isn’t under contract. According to David Henesy from an interview given for the thirty-fifth anniversary of Dark Shadows, “…I had not even signed a contract at the time. After my reading, I was ‘booked’ [hired],…” (35th Anniversary Dark Shadows Memories, A Conversation with David Henesy, p. 84)
So Dan Curtis has to make a decision: fire Mark Allen to get David Henesy back, or keep Mark Allen on and risk losing Dark Shadows. You could always get another David Collins, but where on earth are you going to find another David Henesy?
In a Manhattan television studio, a soap within a soap is playing out behind the scenes of a Gothic daytime drama. With tension rising, a troubled actor in a desperate moment lashes out with a burst of violence that may signal his downfall…
The tension at Collinwood is building. Burke Devlin is waiting patiently in the drawing room for Roger to walk in. It seems that an unpleasant confrontation is inevitable. But today the real drama is unfolding in another part of town, where a man fears for his life.
What Elizabeth Stoddard doesn’t know is that her nephew David has just that day done something that will not only bring the police around to Collinwood, but may also destroy the good name of Collins forever. What Elizabeth Stoddard does know is that her daughter Carolyn has just now not only brought an enemy around to Collinwood, but she may also help destroy the good name of Collins forever. It’s been a long day at Collinwood, seven episodes so far, and it’s about to get a lot longer.
For Dark Shadows fans who view the series beginning with episode 210, Sam Evans is likely perceived as a sympathetic character. At the very least, he seems innocuous, and for the most part you feel for him because his daughter Maggie, a character who is universally well liked, is soon to be kidnapped and you understand the tortured anguish of a loving father who only wants for his daughter to be returned home safely. Even Roger Collins at one point manages to almost express a measure of sympathy for Sam’s plight – almost, that is.
But taking the series from the beginning, it’s a different story – and not just because the first actor who plays him, Mark Allen, doesn’t seem to find as much favor with Dark Shadows fans the way his successor to the role does, David Ford. Perhaps it’s the company he keeps.