Chesapeake Shakespeare’s production of Dracula is just what’s needed for this season of dying leaves and chills down the spine.
Playwright Steven Dietz has taken the original Bram Stoker novel and transposed it nearly scene for scene. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing: this is no Hollywood Dracula, all polish and Art Deco design, as in the famous Bela Lugosi “Dracula” movie, but rather a return to the 1890s melodrama and complex plot of the original source. As such, the play is successful in establishing a lovely Gothic mood, with High British mannerisms and speech.
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There are two sets of nearly identical young couples: the doomed Lucy (Nina Marti) and Dr John Seward (Terence Fleming) as the doctor at the lunatic asylum. Lucy’s best friend is Mina (Hanna Kelly) and her fiancee Harker (Obinna Nwachkwu), who has the unfortunate mission of bringing Dracula to England.
Of the four, Fleming is an actor to watch for. With his deep voice and regal bearing, he has the most stage presence of the four.
As Dracula, Michael P. Sullivan really has the plum role. He isn’t on stage all that often but when he is, you can’t look away.
Controlled by Dracula, Renfield, though quite mad, tries to warn everyone that evil is afoot. Small plays Renfield appropriately twitchy and bears no little resemblance to Jack Nicholson on a bad day- or any other day, for that matter- and it’s quite fun to see him slithering about, popping up in the audience just when you least expect him.
Director Gerrad Alex Taylor has injected humor elsewhere in this melodrama, particularly in the first act- watch for Kathryne Daniels (Ensemble) as an exasperated maid, trying to ‘dust’ away the mist the Count brings with him.
The three-story set (Scenic Designer Emily Lotz) boasts not one but two spiral staircases (!) a fantastic moon projection that flits from full moon to flapping bats to blinking red eyes. The entire production is done in shades of grey, white and black, à la Edward Gorey, save for Count Dracula’s red-lined cape and superbly tailored red brocade dressing gown.
Costume Designer Kristina Lambdin is in her element here- the womens’ 1890s walking suits are muttonchop sleeve perfection, and even Dr Seward wears a perfectly researched doctors coat of the 1890s. Lighting (Jason Aufdem-Brinke) is equally atmospheric, with sickly greens, pale ambers and deadly reds abounding.
There are a few onstage flaws: the puppet wolf bears an unfortunate resemblance to a large cow, lighted red eyes notwithstanding. And blood shed in Act 1 should have been cleaned up by Act 2- it’s hard to watch actors avoiding sliding in blood, real or otherwise. At times it’s difficult to hear some of the unmiked actors: with audiences as much as two stories above them, care must be taken to enunciate up to the top rows.
The largest flaw, though, is with the two and a half hour script (with one 15 minute intermission). There’s a great deal of repetition built into the talky script, and whole scenes could have been cut with no loss of plot- indeed, it may have made some of the plotlines clearer.
Dracula closes November 8, 2019. Details and tickets
For all that, though, it’s a lovely, brooding evening out, even if you already know the story fairly well. Actors and musicians come out both before the show and during intermission: hearing Sullivan, in full Dracula regalia but without his wig, sing a rendition of Mick Jagger’s “Sympathy for the Devil” is a hoot and a half. And just going to Chesapeake Shakespeare’s ornate three-quarter stage is a treat in itself: I’ve said it before- it’s one of the prettiest theaters around. Oh, and the bar stays open during the show. I hear the house red is quite nice.
As Renfield says: “The Unexpected Always Happens”.
Dracula by Steven Dietz from the novel by Bram Stoker . Director: Gerrad Alex Taylor . Cast: Michael P Sullivan as Dracula; Scott Alan Small as Renfield; Obinna Nwachukwu as Jonathan Harker; Stephen Patrick Martin as Dr Van Helsing; Terrence Fleming as Dr John Steward; Hannah Kelly as Mina Murray; Nina Marti as Lucy; Kathryne Daniels as Ensemble; Tim Neiland Isaiah Mason Harvey as Ensemble . Production Manager: Kyle Rudgers . Costume Designer: Kristina Lambdin . Asst. Costumes: Matthew Smith . Scenic Designer: Emily Lotz . Technical Director: Daniel O’Brian . Props Designer: Adrianna Watson . Puppetry Designer: Jess Rasp . Lighting Designer: Jason Aufdam-Brinke . Hair, Wig & Makeuyp Designer: Sandy Spence . Sound Designer: Kreistin Hamby . Music Director: Grace Srinivasan . Fight Choreographer: Chris Niebling . Production Stage Manager: Alexis E Davis . Assistant Stage Manager: Taylor GulottaProduced by Chesapeake Shakespeare Company . Reviewed by Jill Kyle-Keith.
Note: Dracula and his ghouls may take, but you can give.
On Thursday, October 17, from 1 to 6pm, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company will host Dracula’s Blood Drive, a community blood donation at the CSC acting studio in the heart of downtown, at 206 East Redwood Street, 4th Floor, Baltimore, MD 21202. It’s easy to make an appointment to donate: Visit redcrossblood.org and enter the blood drive password: SHAKESPEARE. Walk-ins are welcome.
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