The Night of Nosferatu: Gruesome Toothsome

In the horror genre, it's not necessarily the monster that gives us the chills; it's the atmosphere of suspense.  Fortunately for their adaptation of Nosferatu, Rabbit Hole Ensemble has atmosphere in spades.  The company's mission is "to emphasize the communal nature of theatre through a distinctly minimalist aesthetic that focuses on audience space, and the performer (especially their basic tools of physicality and voice), producing a uniquely direct and candid experience.  Strong stories, told simply and theatrically, without much technology".  Rabbit Hole has been honing The Night of Nosferatu, premiering acts I and II separately over the past year, under the direction of director Edward Elefterion.

Stanton Wood's play is based on Nosferatu, F.W. Murnau's 1922 silent film, itself an unauthorized film adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula, which changed little other than the names of the characters and a few plot details.  Wood's adaptation is ingenious- told in a Story Theatre manner, with characters narrating their own stories as they go.  2 other actors accompany Jonathan Harker into Nosferatu's lair, and serve as his subtext, in counterpoint to his spoken words.  Often in the first act the tone is smartly humorous rather than spooky- since we as the modern audience know what Nosferatu is, we laugh at Harker's foolishly glossing over his host's eccentricities.  There is no set, everything is evoked through minimal props, lighting, and the actors themselves.  All except Nosferatu are in simple nondescript clothes- black and tight in the first act and loose and white in the second.  The simplicity works like a dream, in fact like a nightmare, giving an ominous unsettling feeling, especially in the first act.  The spookiest effects are those we can imagine for ourselves.  It's like a dark haunted house, or being told a ghost story around a campfire.

The actors are all wonderful; Paul Daily is a wonderful Harker, his pale and drawn face full of confused dread.  Danny Ashkenasi is amusingly spooky as the life-eating Renfield.  Emily Hartford does excellent work as both Lucy and the vampire bride Morana, as well as an hilarious Transylvanian maid.  Ned Massey is a sturdy presence as Westenra and others.  Matt W. Cody is rarely seen as Nosferatu, but when he is, he commands the stage, going from seemingly innocuous foreign count to the deranged revenant he actually is.  Tatiana Gomberg, as Mina, simply owns the play, especially the second act- she is a pillar of strength, vibrating with life.  Her attraction and repulsion as she nearly descends into vampirism herself is incredible.  A lesser actress might have made it melodramatic, but Gomberg nails it.

Lighting by Kevin Hardy is wonderful.  Courtney Dailey's makeup is very effective.

The play is not perfect- the second act feels over-long, and there's very little Nosferatu in it; and the male actors might want to more deeply consider which undergarments they're wearing when wearing translucent white linen pants.

But it's a grand and spine-tingling production, just in time for an early Halloween treat- only two more performances; catch it if you can!

The Night of Nosferatu: Remaining performances are Saturday October 13 at 2PM & 8PM. THE NIGHT OF NOSFERATU WorkShop Theater Mainstage, 312 West 36th Street, (between 8th & 9th Avenues) on the 4th floor.. Tickets: $18, $15 for students and seniors. Reservations: 212-352-3101 or www.theatermania.com.

Photo by Edward Elefterion: Matt W. Cody as Nosferatu and Tatiana Gomberg as Mina Harker

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Duncan Pflaster Duncan Pflaster is an award-winning playwright whose plays have been produced all over. He also has been known to direct, write music, play the ukulele, and (if his arm is twisted) act. He won second place in the 2009 Stage and Cinema's New York City Theater Review Contest. www.duncanpflaster.com


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