BWW Review: DRACULA at Theatre Three
Many have tried and failed to recreate the horror and passion of Bram Stoker's Dracula. Written in 1897, it has given us many a cheesy film, full of the bad special effects we have almost come to automatically associate with this classic story.
Michael Federico has brought this classic a fresh, and updated feel. He tells a gripping, and terrifying story of manipulation, choices, sex, and of course plenty of blood. This adaptation in collaboration with Christie Vela's direction, was brilliantly done. I felt I was watching an old Hitchcock film with the suspense that both Federico and Vela brought to Theatre Three's stage.
Federico's adaptation follows the story of Mina Murray (Natalie Young) and her quest for something more to life than just a simple housewife life. She lives with her spoiled, yet endearing friend, Lucy (Natalie Hope Johnson) who has quite the array of suitors all played by Josh Bangle. Young and Johnson's love shown on stage made their friendship and vulnerability accessible to the audience, a crucial point in Dracula's ability to use them and manipulate their love fore each other. Mina's fiancé Jonathan Harker (Ian Mead Moore) is seen going to a very mysterious castle where he meets the infamous Count Dracula played by the fantastic Allison Pistorius. At first feigning an innocent old man, Dracula turns much more sinister, trapping and seducing Harker (although Harker strayed and made that choice himself) in order to pursue Mina and perhaps all of England. I have to say Pistorius made this character far more frightening than I anticipated. She made the role someone we all found dashing and charming. Once we fell for that charm, we were then terrified by the thirst and manipulation. Throughout the play more character's are seen such as R. M. Renfield played by Paul T. Taylor. An original character from the Dracula book that is bound to Dracula and controlled by him to fulfill his evil plot. Professor Anneliese Van Helsing, played by Gloria Vivica Benavides, is brought on to use her expertise in rare diseases to save the victims of Dracula. I found this character a particularly wonderful adaptation of the original book character, Abraham Van Helsing. In my opinion Benavides's take on the role was far more entertaining than anything I could have imagined Abraham to be from the original adaptation. A special recognition to this cast goes to Kat Lozano who seamlessly transitioned from one character to the next. Every actor had the daunting task of being an ensemble member at one point or another, which meant everyone was practically onstage 95% of the time. While this could have been a confusing part of the show, the actors skillfully distinguished each character transition.
The scenic design by Jeffrey Schmidt was beautifully dynamic. The multiple levels and steps throughout the design gave Vela the opportunity to provide scenes with plenty of diagonals and angles that were a dream to watch in an in-the-round setting. John Flores's sound design was able to give power, subtlety, and that classic old movie nostalgia that heightened the show and at times brought the horror. Lighting design by Aaron Johansen was skilled and intricate, with projections, mirrors, and fabric that did not make this job easy, but rewarding to see. Costume Design by Holly Hill was nothing short of show stopping. However I will say as stunning as the costumes were, more fittings were needed to make them functional and safe. Johnson's hem on her first dress was too long and with a set with that many steps, it caused her to trip. Pistorius also could barely walk down the first few stairs in her finale gown. The headdress worn by Lozano almost didn't fit through the entryway. These are just things that brought me out of the play, that I noticed made the actors struggle a bit. That being said only a highly skilled designer could have achieved those costumes and they were exquisite. Fight choreography was achieved by Nicole Berastequi with additional fight scenes by Jeff Colangelo. The play would not have been half as terrifying if it weren't for these choreographed fight scenes.
I am extremely pleased with the female heavy cast Federico has created in his adaptation. The classic literary works are often the ones that fans are most protective of, but I will say he did this piece justice. Vela's bold direction and the work of these talented actors and actresses made this a treat. If you want to be spooked this Halloween season I highly recommend this production. The production runs through October 27th and I wouldn't miss it.