PPI’s Dracula is a passable presentation of the classic horror story
Just in time for Halloween season, Proscenium Players Inc. presents Steven Dietz’s adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, directed by Michon Deem. The adaptation works well, turning the late 19th century epistolary novel, which wages seduction and savageness against virtue and innocence, into short, layered scenes.
Dracula opens with a large man in asylum whites talking directly to the audience. Nick Josten’s physique is commanding as the lunatic Renfield—one overlooks his baby face when he talks, for his deep, booming voice commands notice. He spends most of the play in the best prop on the set: a 4-foot by 4-foot wood-framed cage with bars of black, slightly moveable plastic. Cobwebs with spiders, which Renfield occasionally eats, hang around the top of the cage, giving it a dungeony look. When he calls out, “Master! Master!” he pulls apart the “bars” ever so slightly.
The women—Mina (Alisha Giurlani) and Lucy (Kersey Clark)—fill the whole auditorium with their sing-songy voices and giddiness. Watching them interact is like watching 10-year-old girls with hands laced together spinning round and round until they collapse into a fit of giggles. Throughout the play, the light spirit of both actresses contrasts nicely with the somber, death-knell atmosphere of the male characters. And Clark has a terrific scream.
Michael Patterson, who plays Mina’s husband, Jonathan Harker, had some difficulties with his lines, as did Dave Josten as Professor Van Helsing. Curtis Deem, who plays Dr. Seward, had no trouble with his lines and seemed perfectly cast as the head of the asylum where Renfield is confined.
When Jonathan Harker meets Dracula (Jason Nash) for the first time, the Count is gray-haired, feeble and in need of blood. Nash wears finger lengtheners with long, black fingernails, which he handles marvelously as he pours a glass of wine. Nash continually gestures with his hands, if only to draw his cape around his frail shoulders, drawing the eyes of the audience to those ghastly, slow-moving, inhuman hands.
A few scenes later, when the Count arrives full of blood and in good, immortal health, we see just what a great Dracula Nash makes: Though his finger extenders have been removed, his fingers, as well as his whole stature, are long, lean and imposing. His face is angular, his beard is shaven to emphasize the angles of his face, and his accent is perfect.
Overall, the props are minimal and functional. The sound system, however, needs some work. When the music first came on, well after the beginning of the play, I was distracted by it; the adaptation is scary, and the cast was doing a sufficient job of creating suspense through silence. For instance, when Mina and Lucy talk about the crashing sea, there is no sound of the sea crashing, but their words and the fear in their voices create the sound in my imagination. So when their goal is to scare me, I’d prefer they do it through my imagination—not with a bit of scary, staticky music crackling out of some speaker behind me every so often.
Occasionally, I had the sense that I was watching a high school play in a setting other than a high school auditorium, partly due to tripping over lines. But overall, Dracula is an enjoyable show.