Saturday, February 14, 2009

review - Dracula

Bram Stoker’s

written by
Hamilton Dean and John L. Balderston
conceived and directed by Ken Sawyer

NoHo Arts Center Ensemble
through March 22

The very first screen Count Dracula that comes to mind is Bela Lugosi, who bared his fangs and scared the world. Next, in a TV film, came Jack Palance, offering a more sympathetic, even pitiable perspective of the man doomed to roam the streets at night for all eternity, as the leader of the undead. Then in the late 70s Frank Langella portrayed the infamous Count on stage and film, painting a much more romantic side. Bram Stoker, after all, wrote about the power of love, and in the newest stage version of the classic Dracula at the No Ho Arts Center, directed meticulously by Ken Sawyer, it is love that reverberates and perseveres.

For any one that does not know the story, rent one of the aforementioned movies, as my intent is to talk about the production values of this new Dracula. Set in Whitby, England in the1920s at a mental asylum and its surroundings, there is abundant opportunity presented by the script to display vast, dark, gothic interior and exterior spaces. The NoHo Arts Center with its expansive stage and wide open space in which entrances and exits may be made from the back as well as the front, including movement down and up stairs through the audience, provides the perfect theatrical ambiance. Aided by the brilliant ingenuity of scenic designer Desma Murphy and lighting designer Luke Moyer, the entire space becomes the living, breathing demonic playground of Count Dracula. Renfield (a very nimble Alex Robert Holmes) scales the entire stage wall and cavorts high up on the outer ledge of an upper story window - which appears much farther up than it actually is - as does intern Butterworh (Chad Coe, lending a subtle creepiness to a supporting character). This is but one example of how well the space and set - a principal character here - enrich the visual experience. Sawyer’s imaginative staging, making use of every crook and cranny of the large space, is fascinating, as are the prolonged silent pauses that he allows in the action. The actors move in silence, and then, as if from nowhere there are instantaneous, terrifying moments like the sudden appearance of an undead child surrounded by a burst of burning light in a hall window.

Let me add that the love scene between Dracula and Lucy is deliciously sensuous, as is Dracula’s opening seduction of Mina in the nude.

The entire cast is solid, including the before mentioned Holmes and Coe, Robert Arbogast, underplaying Dracula, Joe Hart as Van Helsing, Karessa McElheny as Dr. Seward, Darcy Jo Martin as Lucy, J. R. Mangels as Jonathan Harker, Tahni DeLong, making the maid Wells interesting to watch and lovely Mara Marini as Mina.

This entire production is a treat – one of the best Draculas I’ve seen - due mainly to the splendid creative team led by Ken Sawyer’s artful vision.
Parental guidance is suggested due to partial nudity.

5 out of 5 stars


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