The calendar turns from September to October. The baseball year has ended (at least, here in Baltimore) and football takes over. As reliably as these other seasonal changes, our area’s stages are alive with spooky entertainment to pave the way for Halloween. Chesapeake Shakespeare Company joins in the fun with a dazzling production of “Dracula” this month.
Like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, published 80 years earlier, Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel has seen many successful adaptations to the screen and stage. Chesapeake Shakespeare chose a 1996 version by American playwright Steven Dietz (Lonely Planet; God’s Country) and with this well-crafted script Director Gerrad Alex Taylor pulled out all the stops, creating a 2-1/2 hour thrill ride.
The other characters, both living and undead, are brought to “life” by a wonderful cast.
The story of Dracula is certainly a product of its time. Hidden in plain sight behind a basic boy-meets-girl-boy-bites-girl-girl-goes-bad structure is a nervous fable meant to provide a sobering warning as the approaching end of the Victorian era – and the birth of the 20th century – presaged that most frightening of threats to humanity: change. Here we see that evil is more cunning and powerful than we are, yet evil fears us because it is not free. A man of science uses mostly religious gimmicks in his attempt to defeat the shapeshifting beast – not out of any kind of irony, but because of what these opposing forces represented in Stoker’s world. Indeed, he seems to tell us, the advancements of the Industrial Revolution are all well and good but when push comes to shove it’s that Old Time Religion that’ll save our souls. Violently if necessary.
Director Taylor helms an all-star production staff here. Emily Lotz’s white scenery (all the better for bleeding upon) features a gorgeous circular projection screen. Props by Adrianna Watson and Jess Rassp’s puppets add many truly creepy moments. Lighting Designer Jason Aufdem-Brinke provides excellent framing, shadow, and depth while covering a three-level stage. Kristina Lambdin’s costumes are period-perfect. Our design award of the evening goes to Kristin Hamby, whose sound is somehow both subtle and over-the-top at the same time. Her work here achieves a rare and wonderful feat: the elevation of sound to a status of a fully realized character in the play.
The other characters, both living and undead, are brought to “life” by a wonderful cast. As insectarian madman Renfield, Scott Alan Small proves the danger of maniacal loyalty to a charismatic master. Nina Marti’s Lucy shows us what happened to young women who had three suitors at once. Star-crossed intendeds Mina and Jonathan – Hannah Kelly and Obinna Nwachukwu – join forces with the bewildered and skeptical Dr. Seward (Terrance Fleming) and his mentor/shaman Professor Van Helsing (Stephen Patrick Martin) on a crusade to expose and destroy the titular Count, portrayed in all his gory glory by Michael P. Sullivan. Where other Draculae might demur, this one is no holds barred and all fangs bared.
Lest anyone forget, horror is fun. Kudos to Chesapeake Shakespeare for their brilliant philanthropic maneuver of partnering with the American Red Cross for a blood drive on October 17th. The company’s press release announcing the event includes a quote from none other than Dracula himself: “It is an act of benevolence to donate and give me – I mean, someone else, a second chance at life,” he says.
Running Time: Approximately 2-1/2 hours with one intermission.
Advisory: fog and stage blood used; recommended for ages 13 and up.
“Dracula” plays through November 2, 2019 at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, 7 South Calvert Street, Baltimore. For tickets call (410) 244-8570 or purchase online.