Writer: Bram Stoker
With Additional Material By: Steven Dietz and Lori Wolter Hudson
Director: Kristin McCarthy Parker
Reviewer: Jonathan Alexandratos
Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula weaves a narrative about immigration, the body, and performance into the tapestry of an age-old horror story. Dracula, the character, becomes almost a red herring for the real threat: fear of the Other. It is others that give Dracula his importance, not Dracula himself. Movie adaptations have lost this by putting Dracula front-and-center. Thankfully, Steven Dietz’s intelligent, funny, and frightening script carries us back to the novel in the best way possible.
That is not to say this adaptation takes no liberties, but they are always in service to the central themes of Stoker’s work. The immersive nature of this experience, for instance, highlights just how performative and engulfing Dracula, the source text, is. Characters are thrown head first into the cavernous house of a mysterious stranger, and so is the audience. But the actors, here, ease their crowd into the waters of this immersion well. They fully utilize the space at West Park Church so efficiently that it is easy to forget you never leave one, albeit large, room. It is obvious which section of the room you are expected to go to with every moment, but the actors never let you feel left alone. Much like a good yoga instructor will adjust her students, these actors adjust their audience in such a way that a trust is built between audience and actor. This is crucial, here, because, though Dracula is a horror story, the audience always feels like they will never be let down by this talented group of storytellers.
Because this bond is established between actors and audience, both fully accepting of each other’s worlds, an exhilarating event is born. Renfield (Paul Kite, mastering the art of being creepy, lovable, sympathetic, and insane all at the same time) is first to set up the space. He introduces Mina (the much welcome Nemuna Ceesay, who refreshingly presents her character as someone you have known all your life, someone who is instantly comfortable even in the strangest of circumstances) and Lucy (Miranda Noelle Wilson, who has an acting range that could span the globe and who uses that talent full-force here). He is there when Seward (the extremely gifted Jonathan Finnegan, who brings a Seward that is equal parts old and new, magically in both Stoker’s text and ours at the same time) hilariously quells Lucy’s passion for him. He seems to be fluttering around when Harker (Justin Yorio, who feels so wonderfully like the man playing the serious notes of reason throughout this hysterical evening) embraces Mina.
Renfield, the Jester, runs the show until his master, Dracula (the perfect Michael Borrelli, in top form as a Dracula you feel like you have run into at a particularly bro-filled, Axe-body-spray-laden club), appears. Though Dracula steals every scene he is in, he is not in that much of the play. This is one of the many aspects of the show that Steven Dietz gets right: you do not need Dracula. You need Dracula’s influence. With Borrelli’s powerful acting, the influence of Dracula is felt long after the character has exited the room. Of course, someone has to move the action along, and, with Renfield cowering after the appearance of his master, it seems our heroes are lost.
Enter The Professor. This character, built on Van Helsing, is played by January LaVoy, and this reviewer’s assessment of her performance cannot be contained by a parenthetical remark. Based on a quick joke The Professor makes, it seems as though LaVoy was suffering from a case of laryngitis prior to the show; however, she is perhaps the only actress who can actually make this handicap work for her extremely well. The raspy, deep voice only gives her character more authority, and the over-the-ear mic she wears gives LaVoy a great punchline (her character was denied tenure and took a job as a Soul Cycle instructor, hence the mic). It is work like this – transforming an ailment into an advantage – that makes LaVoy the perfect choice for this rôle, a character who must, also, take sour situations and turn them around.
And she does. From the moment of her entrance on, she directs the show, while Renfield tries to assemble the broken shards of his life. With her taking the lead, the audience feels in good hands, and, in fact, she assembles her team of vampire hunters (Seward, Harker, and Mina) and they pursue their target, Dracula, with renewed vigor.
All of this adds up to one of the most rewarding, exciting, theatrical experiences currently available. Everything is designed to break down barriers, which is exactly what Dracula does. Life/death, male/female, sane/mad, friend/foe: these are all binaries that Dracula says are useless in understanding the world. The scenic and lighting design by Christopher and Justin Swader allow for an open space in which attendees are encouraged to make friends. (Indeed, this reviewer did!) Stage Manager Lizzie Robinson and her support crew help actors and audiences feel as though all movement in their space is organic, natural. Caitlin Cisek’s costumes add to the familiarity by making characters generally recognizable, but distinguished in their details. And Toby Jaguar Algya’s sound design is excellent: tackling the epic swaths of sound, and leaving the smaller noises up to the audience. Under Kristin McCarthy Parker’s direction, all of the above comes together the way a perfect evening of theatre should: a communal evening that reminds audiences why theatre and religious awakening were seen as one.
Three-Day Hangover has created the future of theatre, and Dracula is a great showcase of their power. See this show, and feel the next generation of drama land right on your heart.
Runs until October 17 2015