BWW Review: ACT's DRACULA a Chilling, Bloody Good Time
The Granddaddy of horror icons has descended upon Seattle and he's just as romantically malevolent as you might want him to be. ACT has brought us Steven Dietz's retooled adaptation of Bram Stoker's "Dracula" and this classic tale of the original bloodlust is just what you need for your Spooky Halloween season.
It's all still there and presented beautifully switching from diary reenactments to actions of the moment as we venture on the trip with Jonathan Harker (Arjun Pande) to Transylvania to come face to face with the one and only Count Dracula (Brandon O'Neill). But while the familiar plot points are there, the secondary storyline of the seduction and transformation of Lucy (Claudine Mboligikpelani Nako), and the use of the psychotic, bug eating Renfield (Basil Harris) to grant him entry into the asylum where our heroes are hold up, Dietz has amped up the independence and strength of the object of Dracula's affection, Mina (Khanh Doan) making her not as much of a victim but an adversary.
To add into the delicious creep-factor, director John Langs has brought in some wonderful original music from composers Robertson Witmer and Rachael Beaver with Beaver accompanying the entire show on stage with her cello. Add in the deceptively boxed in set from Matthew Smucker, the lighting design from Andrew D. Smith bringing in the blood to the monochromatic world, and the stark white costumes from Deborah Trout for that bloody light (and other blood) to play upon, and the devilish tone is set. And if that weren't enough, the method they use to convey decaying Dracula vs. Young and vibrant Dracula is delightful and handled perfectly.
Langs has done the best thing he could in guiding the performances which is to keep them grounded in some sense of reality. The stunning ensemble never looks to be winking at the material or turning it into some kind of camp spectacle but letting the macabre, melodrama land naturally and letting the audience take the moment where they will.
Doan manages the perfect blend of damsel in distress and stalwart bad ass making her a force to be reckoned with. Pande as Harker and Avery Clark as Dr. Seward are wonderfully relegated to more of a sidekick role in this fight against evil and stay strong with their respective positions on the possible existence of the monster even in the face of his power. And Pande, especially, shines as he goes from scoffing dandy to broken plaything. Nako is perfect as the willing victim and her transformation is fantastic. And the ever amazing Harris plays into the crazed, unsavory character of Renfield with seeming glee making him a fabulous bit of comic relief without ever trying to be comical. Giving us more of an uncomfortable giggle than a belly laugh.
But the show is called Dracula, so what of the Prince of Darkness himself? I cannot think of a better actor in town to play him than O'Neill. He puts on the perfect air of confidence and sexuality bringing the demon to life and making him more than just a monster. But beyond his movement, his vocal manipulations, especially in the more harrowing scenes, truly bring out the demon we know Dracula to be.
I was wondering where my creepy Halloween show was this year. There's always one that nails it. And I'm thrilled to say that this bloodsucker fits the bill nicely. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give ACT's production of "Dracula" a "had a macabre perma-grin all the way through" YAY.
And for those who may want to give a little extra of yourself to the demon, well, Dracula needs blood. ACT will be hosting a blood drive with the American Red Cross at the theatre on Thursday, November 7th from 1:00pm - 6:00pm. They'll have Dracula giveaways for everyone, plus special ticket offers, visits from cast members, and a behind-the-scenes peek at the Dracula stage. Relax while you donate in their beautiful building. It will only take about an hour of your day and your blood donation will help save lives. Space is limited. To schedule a donation appointment visit: www.redcrossblood.org/give.html/find-drive or call 1-800-733-2767 use the sponsor code: ACT. For more information on blood donation visit www.redcrossblood.org.
"Dracula" performs at ACT through November 17th. For tickets or information contact the ACT box office at 206-292-7676 or visit them online at www.acttheatre.org.