BWW Review: DRACULA at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company
October is a month of gothic delights at the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company which brings Dracula back to life with Michael P. Sullivan in the title role. Based on Bram Stoker's iconic novel, adapted by Steven Dietz and directed by Gerald Alex Taylor, this production combines humor and horror in a gorgeous setting. Housed in a former bank building, the theater is a variation on the Globe with a rich Romanesque design and intimate seating. It was common in the Elizabethan era for the actors to engage and interact with the audience. CSC continues this tradition as actors may appear before, during and after the performance to provide musical entertainment or talk with the audience.
In his thirst for fresh blood, Count Dracula follows lawyer/real estate agent, Jonathan Harker (Obinna Nwachukwu) back to England, proceeds to buy the biggest house in town and feast on various unwitting residents. Jonathan's fiancé, Mina Murray (Hannah Kelly), knows something is wrong with Jonathan since his return from Transylvania. Plus her serial dater friend, Lucy Westenra (Nina Marti) is having strange nightmares of the wolf and bat variety. Enter Professor Van Helsing, an expert in rare diseases, who realizes something is afoot. Meanwhile back at the asylum, lunatic Renfield (Scott Alan Small) tries to warn everyone that something wicked has come their way but head of the asylum, Dr. John Seward (Terrence Fleming) just thinks he's crazy until odd and terrifying things prove otherwise.
Kelly's Mina is a a wonderful combination of lovely and heroic. Mina is at the the heart of this battle of good versus evil. Her ladylike demeanor masks strength and determination that wins the day. Marti's Lucy is delightfully flirtatious and slightly wicked making her most vulnerable to seduction by the dark side. Our trio of heroes, the solicitor, the professor and the doctor, work with verve and nerve as Nwachukwu, Martin and Fleming valiantly try to solve the mystery of the Count and his boxes of dirt and creepy servants. Small is insanely energetic and appealingly disturbed as Renfield, resident Victorian madman. Sullivan is suave and imposing as Dracula, who is all controlled and droll until bloodlust unleashes his animal nature.
The multilevel stage with spiral staircases and a circular projection screen that glows in full moon splendor make this a uniquely spooky experience. Scenic designer Emily Lotz creates a ghostly atmosphere with white draping and foggy ruins. The costumes by Kristina Lambdin are richly evocative period pieces with modern twists on Victorian lace, Ottoman silks and steam punk styles.
For those unfamiliar with this classic version, the story is a scary revelation of our imaginative past. One young boy, in the audience was so engrossed, he tried to warn our protagonists as they walked into danger with a vociferous "no!" Good stuff for the uninitiated.
Written in 1897, DRACULA manifested all the fears of the Victorian age, a time of great change. Can we make progress without losing our humanity? What happens when our primitive drives for blood and money erupt out during times of instability, corrupting our inventions and ideas? Can we find our inner light like Mina, defeat the darkness and move forward with wisdom and compassion?