Red Deer College’s Theatre Performance and Creation program is producing Steven Dietz’s Dracula, a 1996 adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel.
I hadn’t read the novel or seen any of the movies or stage plays based on it, so I didn’t really know the story, just the cultural common ground about the bloodsucking Transylvanian count. This meant that some of the plot twists surprised me, which was fun.
Dracula starts off with a prologue at one edge of the stage delivered by Renfield, a woman in an elegant dress of a previous era (Daryn Tessier), being served wine and a meal by a servant while discoursing on Bram Stoker and immortality. The meal turns out to be a rat, and the woman is swept off to be clothed in rags and chains by attendants of an asylum. I was a little confused later on because a reference to a “men’s asylum” left me unclear whether she was supposed to be a male character, as in the original novel, although the part otherwise worked well as a woman in thrall to her master Count Dracula.
The other side of the stage is then revealed as the bedroom of a young woman, Lucy, (Kirsten Harper) as she talks with her friend Mina (Raegan Aleman) about Mina’s far-away fiancé and Lucy’s suitors. The middle and upstage is still dark, but then a small glimpse of a rocky fortress is starkly lit while we hear Mina’s fiancé Jonathan (Nathan Johnson) recite a letter he’s writing to her from his business trip to inaccessible Transylvania. The story progresses from there in brief scenes of foreboding and flashbacks, as Dracula (Callahan New) arrives in England and targets Lucy, and Mina, Jonathan, Lucy’s suitor and friend Dr. Seward (Mitchel Roelfsema), and Dr. Seward’s colleague Van Helsing (Steven Pecksen) try to protect her and then save her. Among the other characters, Natascha Shulmeister and Elise Dextraze were particularly noteworthy as “vixens”, or seductive thralls of Dracula.
The shocking and creepy story was complemented with lots of special effect cues, flashing lights, smoke, holes opening in floor, walls, and somewhere else that I won’t write in order not to spoil future audiences, blood, dead creatures, and so on. These all worked well and added to the horror. The many shifts of scene required lots of furniture moving, which wasn’t always silent but was speedy and smooth. The music was sometimes helpfully eerie, but sometimes that kind of minor-7th organ chord that’s so cliché as parody suspenseful music that it kind of pulled me out of the story for a minute.
On the other hand, I was interested to notice that Count Dracula’s accent was much more subtle than the parodies on parodies of “I vant to suck your blood” that everyone thinks of as a Dracula accent. I have no idea if it was authentic, but it felt credible and not overplayed. Similarly, the other characters had various hints of English accents, and in the case of Van Helsing, Dutch, just enough to feel atmospheric and not enough to make any of them hard to understand for a Canadian audience.
In the first few scenes, I found Mina and Jonathan both a little hard to understand. I think it was because they were speaking quickly while being fairly far back on a large stage. After that I had no problem hearing or understanding any of the characters as the grisly tale unfolded.
Dracula continues through next weekend, on the Mainstage of Red Deer College Arts Centre. Tickets are available here.