Review: Actors Theatre's Dracula [Theater]

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This piece was originally posted September 19th.

Now in its seventeenth year of attempting to scare the pants off of theatregoers, ATL, and director William McNulty have nearly perfected the art of horror onstage.
 
Set in the intimate Bingham Theatre, this version of the play, which was adapted by McNulty and premiered in 2007, opens with a powerful and wordless prologue, propelling audience members quickly into the dark world of the “undead.”
 
This is juxtaposed abruptly as the action moves to the study of Dr. Seward (Christopher Kelly), where the visiting Dr. Van Helsing (played by the tireless McNulty) awaits his friend’s explanation of the mysterious and tragic happenings of the past few weeks.
 
The casting of this production is flawless. With each character, the actors have mined the gold from the script, brought an incredible amount of personal talent, and mixed the two in seamless unity. 
 
Over the course of this intensely physical play, they use every possible inch of the theatre—including the aisles, the promenades, and, quite nearly, several audience members’ laps.
 
Rufio Lerma, in his Actors debut as Dracula, has developed an interesting twist in his character. Not only does he ooze sinister evil, he commands the stage with such confidence that the entire rhythm of the play changes when he appears (or disappears, for that matter). 
 
It was a fantastically wretched experience to watch Sabrina Conti (Ms. Sullivan) as she transformed from a humble Irish servant to a less-than-human “thing.” Ms. Conti, like so many of the cast, has a well-developed physicality that truly made us see her as two different beings.
 
But it was that disturbingly lovable—and unexpectedly articulate—Renfield that captured the hearts of the audience. Alex Morf, another ATL newcomer, took the captivating lines written by McNulty and developed a character so complex, one never knew what he would do next. Bounding about the stage with the energy of a crazed Tigger, it is likely Morf has to carbo-load before every performance…but the end result is both entertaining and unsettling for the audience.
 
One literary note: don’t go to Actor’s Dracula expecting to see the novel presented theatrically. The script and story, while based on the original dramatization by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston, (which was based on the original novel by Bram Stoker) varies considerably in plot, storyline and characters.  And movie buffs, this is not a recreation of the film you saw in high school. 
 
It is, however, plenty captivating, thanks to the creative team’s special effects, creepy sounds, spooky lighting, intense fight choreography and shudder-inducing scenes with rodents (a la Nick Vannoy as the credible Mr. Briggs).  
 
The crew, led by stage manager Kimberly J. First, excels in propelling the story with their technical precision—though there were several points at which I was momentarily pulled from the action for fear that the actors were about to fall through gaping holes in the stage floor. 
 
In this play, McNulty has created an intriguing adaptation which gives a humanity and depth to these characters—and makes them real—without bowing to the campy caricature often seen in the horror genre. 
 
If your significant other pouts every time you pull him away from ESPN, buy tickets quick. If you can get him into a seat at Dracula, you can kiss your Friday night TV dates goodbye, because this is a show that even non-theatre fans can enjoy. 
 
Dracula, sponsored by Fifth Third Bank, runs now through October 30th. Tickets start at $24, though most run $45. Actors Theatre also has a "day of performance" discount, with some tickets for $20; get them in person or via phone at (502) 584-1205. Tickets can also be purchased online at the Actors Theatre website.
 
Image: James Whalen as Dracula and Joseph Midyett as Harker; courtesy of Alan Simmons, Actors Theater
 
About Michelle Rynbrandt
Before landing in the Possibility City, Michelle toured the country performing in various regional theatres. Having been there and done that, she can honestly say that Louisville's cultural opportunities are second to none.
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