BWW Reviews: Sinking Teeth into DRACULA: THE JOURNAL OF JONATHAN HARKER at Orlando Shakes
It is no wonder that vampires are so popular, but there are no sparkles in Orlando Shakes' newest production of DRACULA: THE JOURNAL OF JONATHAN HARKER. This is the quintessential October production and its star John P. Keller is the perfect storyteller. Original to Orlando, DRACULA: THE JOURNAL OF JONATHAN HARKER was written by Orlando Shakes Artistic Director, Jim Helsinger and is possibly the most creative retelling of the classic tale.
The story of Dracula is told through Jonathan Harker years after the event in the form of a day-by-day account. An inquiring Mr. Stoker wanted to read Harker's journal to obtain details of his experience. Harker originally was sent to Castle Dracula to arrange the legal matters for the Count to purchase a home close to London. During his time, Harker kept a travel journal to track his daily events. Each entry is recounted to the audience in a dramatic fashion that takes the audience through Harker's experience from beginning to end. The tone changes from an exciting adventure to a torturous life-or-death experience. The second act follows Dracula to London, where Harker, his wife Mina, and a cast of other characters including Dr. Van Helsing must stop him.
While many other adaptations give the Count a dark attractive sexiness; here, Dracula is the antagonist and spawn from pure evil. Jim Helsinger stuck very close to the original Bram Stoker book, but took the perspective of Harker.
John Keller is a tour-de-force carrying the entire production solo. Keller shows his range of acting as he portrays all of the characters using five or more speaking accents. His accents range from the proper English-man Jonathan Harker to dark husky Dracula, to a Matthew McConaughey-esque version of Quincey Morris. As Harker, Keller plays him as a refinEd English-man with almost a sense of naive about Dracula's intentions. As the story progresses, his Harker becomes desperate, angry, protective, and brave.
Keller ensures that his Dracula is dark and cunning. His eyes pierce the audience as he stands center stage threatening Harker. The portrayal of Dracula comes not just from Keller's vocal inflection, but his entire body. It is very clear, which character he is playing even when the pair are conversing together. In what is one of the best scenes of dialogue, Keller transforms himself to the paranoid lunatic Renfield. There is a desperate air to Renfield who is constantly bridging the gap from lucid to insanity. Keller's breadth of interpretation does not make the show feel like a monologue, or even a long journal entry, but rather an event that really happen.
The set has amazing detail equipped with double doors and antique-looking set pieces. Yet by setting the scene and changing the lighting the set seemingly transforms from dank attic to looming castle. Keller uses the set so adeptly to tell the stories, sometimes swinging from the rafters or walking through trap doors. It is exhausting just watching him work. Earlier, I interviewed John about his experience with the show. Check it out here.
The lighting and sound design is something to be applauded. The team uses complete darkness to heighten the audience's senses. Audio cues from speakers surrounding the audience send chills down the spine every time a wolf howls or a thunder cracks. The shadow play is eerie yet so well done, transforming Keller from Harker to the hunched over Dracula with just a mere popping of his shirt collar and stepping toward the light.
If you are a horror story fan or love theater that chills you to the core, this production is not to be missed. Directed by Michael Carleton, DRACULA: THE JOURNAL OF JONATHAN HARKER runs until November 10 at Orlando Shakes. For tickets and more information visit: http://orlandoshakes.org.
Photo credit: Landon St. Gordon