Review by Danny Gaisin
Bram Stoker’s iconic 1897 Vampire story has given birth to countless Halloween costumes, non-quotes (I’ve come to suck your blood) and encouraged the formal wearing of capes (black, with red lining). Liz Lochhead, Scotland’s poet Laureate had re-written the original Stoker take on the 15th century Eastern European ruler Vlad Tepes, whose draconian rule incorporated impalement. Historically, his severity was an effective deterrent! Briefly, the plot deals with a Transylvanian who wishes to migrate to England in search of fresh virginal plasma to maintain his Nosferatu-ish eternal (& nocturnal) banquets. Photo by Emily Cooper
A role teether (sic). The characters: – A real estate solicitor (Harker, engaged to Mina); his friend Dr. Seward is betrothed to Mina’s BFF Lucy, who is Dracula’s 1st victim. Seward misses the chance to query her with “you have some ‘splainin to do – Lucy”. Added to the mix is a Dutch doctor (Van Helsing) who grasps the anti-Christ aspect of the antagonist; an insane asylum inmate; and finally- a maid to the ladies (an important addition to the re-write). Then there’s the biter himself.
The play is, of necessity, depressing, gloomy, and fraught with sinister backdrops. Naturally there are requisite ominous light & sound effects, and unfortunately, its dreary paced overall. Director Eda Holmes has interpreted the subtleties of Stoker’s intention to expose the innate human ogre that resides just under our mantel of morality. I kept thinking of a pre- Nazi highly cultured Germany; erudite American troops & Mi Lai; The UN cowardice in Bosnia and the Liberia-Sierra Leon conflict. All were totally immoral and without a scintilla of remorse. Unfortunately, we so-called empathetics, don’t feel comfortable looking in certain mirrors… just like Dracula. Still, she certainly achieves the effect and atmosphere the play requires. The utility of hospital bed curtains are effectual scene changers but become distracting, almost annoying after a while.
The soliciting real estater – Ben Sanders has a profile evocative of TV star Dick York. He’s one of the more sympathetic characters in the play and his affection for Marla McLean’s Mina rings genuine. Even such hard-noses as yours truly felt something about her doom. Her BFF is Cherissa Richards and she bestows a modern-day liberated-thinking woman that gives female sexuality a new standard. She’s also eye-catchingly pretty. Dr. Seward is portrayed by Martin Happer and his dichotomic behavior as a medical professional and then as a smitten suitor reflects a thespian range that’s superlative. The support roles of Graeme Somerville as the Bedlam inmate still under the spell of the eponymous star seems somewhat overdone and overlong, while Steven Sutcliffe’s Van Helsing who finally gets Vlad, underplays his heroic role.
Florrie is the ladies’ maid and occasional social mores foil. Natasha Mumba conjures up such familiar roles as Aibeleen in “The Help” or a female version of “Hoke” in Driving Miss Daisy. She somehow becomes the 2nd pivotal character in the play. Finally, Allan Louis IS Dracula and I had some occasional nightmares after seeing him go after his victims; his nemeses; and even his three menacing ‘brides’. Talk about taking a role to the nth degree.
DRACULA is not for everyone. As thespian opportunity, it’s perfect for the cast. Numerous viewers commented on leaving, “I didn’t like it” and that seems the collective opinion. Maybe if it were in a Readers Digest ™ version the impact would be lessened; but 3 hours of doom and gloom is rather tedious. It’s at the Festival Theatre until Oct. 14th.