From a mutual
long-time fascination with vampire myths, DRACULA was a labor
of love for the Company. David was eager to create an interpretation
of the title character, and, with a love for the original
Bram Stoker novel, Joe was just as eager to adapt the book
for the stage.
The production emerged from continued discussions with the
Lemp Brewery people. In different buildings within the complex,
elaborate Halloween haunted houses were presented every October
for those looking for a scare. Midnight teamed up with the
“Shocktoberfest” team to present DRACULA throughout
the month of October in an adjoining abandoned warehouse.
It was an ambitious project for the Company. While keeping
the basic structure of the Stoker novel, Joe updated it to
the present, calling up the violent atrocities that had occurred
most recently in Romania and Bosnia as an appropriate bloody
home for the vampire count.
Joe then used the world-wide attention that had fallen on
that area as a reason for Dracula to flee his home for the
west, civilization and fresh blood.
The Company decided to present the play on two separate levels
of the warehouse. The audience entered the building through
old metal gates into a candle-lit hall, and then went into
the first level, representing Dracula’s castle –
a dark, cold and forbidding atmosphere of stone and metal,
again heavily accented by candlelight. There the story began,
and they were introduced to Dracula’s vampire brides,
and learned, along with Jonathan Harker, something of Dracula’s
history, his nefarious habits, and his plans for moving to
a new world.
After a short intermission, the audience was taken upstairs,
which represented contemporary western civilization. Dracula
(who brought his brides with him, a different stroke from
the novel) soon entered into the characters’ lives there,
and began his deadly reign.
Of course, classic characters like Renfield were introduced,
as well as the vampire hunter Van Helsing.
And after Dracula’s ways and means were discovered,
and after another short intermission, the audience was taken
back down stairs as the vampire was chased back to his castle
for a final confrontation with the forces of good.
The show received mostly unfavorable reviews (including one
of the classic rips of all time from the RFT’s critics),
and while the Company was proud of the scope and imagination
of the atmospheric production, learned some lessons, as Dracula,
about biting off more than one can chew.
The vampire brides lure Lucy
DRACULA TAKES RISKS, LOSES A LOT, BUT IS AT BEST
IN MODERN SCENES
By Judy Newmark
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Midnight Production’s new show, DRACULA, continues the
ambitious spirit that has characterized the troupe in the past.
Unfortunately, the gambles it takes this time lose more often
than they pay off. The setting, the historic Lemp Brewery, resembles
a castle less than it does, say, an old plant. Inadequate lighting,
columns that block the view and vast distances between actors
and audience combine to create something new, drama of invisibility.
And the gimmick of having the audience shlep up an down a flight
of stirs twice in pursuit of the actor wrecks any chance the
play has of sustaining a mood. It also makes for a singularly
inaccessible production. People with mobility issues could have
real problems, and that includes women in high heels. But it’s
not clear what mood DRACULA wants to sustani, anyhow.
Joe Hanrahan wrote and directed this present-dau adaptation
of the Bram Stoker novel. A young real-estate salesman (Drew
Bell) goes to Romania (the downstairs theatre) to help the mysterious
Count Dracula (David Wassilak) buy a new house in the United
States (the upstairs venue).
The ealy encounters between Bell and Wassilak are effective,
as both characters put on their best manners (hearty salesmanship,
courtly decorum) while hiding secrets (anxiety about a big career
move, appetite for blood). But what mood is Hanrahan going for?
Stylized camp? In that case, he needs more and better furniture
than the scanty array here. Silly frat-show jokes? The appearance
of a wise old physician (Barry Hyatt) with a gigantic wooden
cross sticking out of his jacket pockets pints that way, but
the timing is too slow.
A modern take on the vampire metaphor? Maybe; the inclusion
of a Texas rancher (Larry Dell) in the vampire-hunting posse
is certainly a bright, fresh touch. But in that case, old-fashioned
plot conventions – oh, sure, leave the inexplicably sick
young woman alone with her mom with the weak heart – stick
Still, the modern approach provides the play’s best moments.
When the salesman and his bride (Heather Ann Klinke) return
to Romania to try to save her life, they lean against a tall,
plain column. He’s in a khaki raincoat, she’s wearing
a heavy, olive-drab jacket and pants. He holds her tightly as
she, speaking for the count, broods on the bloody history of
Central Europe. She’s some kind of refugee; he’s
some kind of soldier. The stark scene plays well in the big,
bare room and also provides the old story with chilling 20th-century
Betsy Krausnick designed the costumes, all good – and
even outstanding in the case of the count’s vampire brides,
who wear lingerie-style evening gowns in the Old World, sleek
black outfits in the New.
Adapted by Joe Hanrahan from Bram Stoker's novel (Midnight Productions)
By Sally Cragin
Every person I know who runs a vintage-goods store reports the
largest sales boost comes not at Christmas but in October. Costumes
are big business, especially vampiric and witchy duds like capes
and peaked hats. But the money's much bigger than that. Sometime
in our lifetimes, October became an orange-and-black juggernaut:
"Shocktober." Elvira plugs everything from Halloween
beer to flashlight batteries. And under-rented parts of shopping
malls become "haunted houses," which saturate teen-demographic
radio and roadside billboards. (Seriously, folks, if you've
really got the spirit, go to the animal shelter and adopt a
black cat -- they're always in oversupply.)
Yet such commercialization has always been wedded to Gothic
themes. Jane Austen had characters reading what we'd call "bodice-rippers"
and even tried her hand at one with Northanger Abbey. The brilliant
Brontë sisters had inspiration aplenty with the forsaken
moors and gray skies of Haworth, not to mention alcoholic and
intermittently mad brother Branwell, who inspired brooding Heathcliff
and probably Mr. Rochester's mad wife. Later in the century,
Bram Stoker dashed off Dracula and was as surprised as anyone
when his count captured the Victorian imagination. Dracula,
despite the fangs, was just a new take on the dark stranger.
He even had the ancestral pedigree required of all Gothic seducers.
(The women in these works, meanwhile, often spring from common
soil, as chastity rather than history is crucial.)
As the personal secretary, business advisor and later biographer
of actor Henry Irving, Stoker was no stranger to charisma, and
he gave his character plenty. Undoubtedly, the old tragedian's
theatricality informed the character of the count, a man of
another time. But our time as well -- consider the films, TV
series, fashions and even breakfast cereal directly inspired
by this archetypal vampire, who can be portrayed as ghastly
or glamorous or, in the case of Werner Herzog's Nosferatu, both.
So the prospect of "a new, contemporary version of Dracula"
(mounted by local outfit Midnight Productions at the neo-Gothic
Lemp Brewery) was intriguing. Why not have some innovation,
when we already know the story so well? Jonathan Harker is sent
on an errand to the Carpathian Mountains, where his host, Count
Dracula, is never available before sunset. Harker falls under
the count's spell but somehow makes it back to civilization,
where he is preceded by his undead host, whose box of earth
is packed on a ship that sails pilotless into harbor. Maidens
are emptied faster than a kegger at a frat party before someone
figures out that a cricket wicket through the fiend's solar
plexus will fix the problem. Finis.
At the Lemp Brewery, you get your tickets in an eerie enclosed
delivery area and then enter a cavernous chamber lined in brick.
Great atmosphere, albeit no scenery save mullioned windows set
high in a wall and a raised platform running the length of the
room. At the outset, this spareness is promising. Groups of
tall, white pillar candles provide flickering illumination.
But the folding chairs are set up row-by-row, auditorium-style.
"Dracula will take place in an unique two level setting,
with the audience following Dracula from his castle to his new
home, and then back for the exciting conclusion," reads
the press release. Alas, the unique two-level setting is completely
underutilized, and the conclusion is hardly -- well, I'm getting
ahead of myself.
Actor David Wassilak, one of the founders of Midnight Productions,
is a tall, thin bloke with a hawkish profile and a sepulchral
manner of speaking. But his Dracula is ultimately no more menacing
than a leafless tree under a full moon, and possibly more wooden.
Of course, it doesn't help that the script, penned by director
Joe Hanrahan (he doesn't claim to have written it, merely "adapted"),
is utterly dreary and a sad filching of Stoker's elegant if
overblown novel. As the show begins, Jonathan Harker (Drew Bell),
a wide-eyed Realtor, has ended up in Romania to arrange a move
for Count Dracula, who's tired of the old sod as the Balkan
war has brought unwelcome attention to his "private part
of the world." What a fabulous point -- can't you just
imagine some crazy castle in outer Bosnia-Herzegovina-Croatia
housing a disgruntled and sleep-disturbed ghoul?
Alas, Midnight Productions does nothing with this gambit. The
scenes with Harker and Dracula are excruciatingly tedious and
not a bit scary. Bell tends to rush his lines without inflecting
them, and Wassilak as the count tends to spe-e-eak in very lo-o-ong
bursts that MAY... put ... stra-a-ange emphasis on certain words
for no damn good reason save that the audience is evidently
supposed to conclude that Drac is one weird cat. Duh. Several
scenes are played in the dimly lit area to the right of the
seats, which means anyone not sitting stage left has to crane
their necks. No one takes into account the echoing acoustical
properties of the hall, so some actors garble their words and
others just sound muffled.
The few "new, contemporary" aspects of this production
come in the second act (also overlong and devoid of drama),
in which Dracula and his "vampire brides" turn up
in an unnamed American city where they pursue Lucy, the best
friend of Jonathan's fiancee, Mina, in a disco. For this, the
audience has to schlepp up a flight of stairs in another part
of the building, again inadequately lighted. (And where are
the "Exit" signs, guys? That's not up to code.) Again,
the seats are set row-by-row, and really corny faux-Kraftwerk
electronica plays. Here, Wassilak has painted the gray out of
his hair and switched from a black graduation gown to a retro-style
leisure suit complete with sunglasses. The Vampire Brides (Elena
Sloop, Lyndsay Somers and Jessica Johns) are cute in their frocks,
but they sashay like members of the Junior Council sloshed on
wine coolers. Heather Ann Klinke as Mina seems to have some
voice training, but the lack of direction finds all the actors
in the ensemble scenes lined up like pickets in a fence. Again,
use the space, guys.
Frankly, this production is completely irredeemable, but if
changes are to be made, consider the following: Think theater-in-the-round
when you set up those chairs, and have the actors actually move
in the entire space and play nearer to the spectators instead
of pretending they're in a conventional theater. Rent better
lights and enlist company members to train movable follow-spots
on actors' faces. A number of "crucial" scenes were
played in complete darkness. Dress the space -- a few cobwebs
and more candles might do wonders -- and have your tech staff
get into the spirit, as well as your ushers. Rethink the makeup
and costumes for consistency and lose "the heroic group"
who pursue the vampire, especially the cowboy, although actor
Larry Dell enunciated clearly enough. As for the script -- well,
how much are the royalties to Samuel French? It's a pity this
show will get an audience from sheer goodwill overflow (Haunted
Caverns and Dr. Zurheide's Asylum also play the Lemp Brewery).
Finally, stage blood is easily created with Karo syrup and food
coloring. Use some. Dracula is not supposed to be anemic.
Dracula takes Mina
An new adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula
Reviewed by Teresa Doggett
Now is the season when ghouls, goblins, witches and all things
wicked begin to the roam the earth and in keeping with that
tradition Midnight Productions give us their version of Bram
Stoker's Dracula. Not the hammy, forgive the pun, Hammer Productions
of the 60's and 70's but a more true to the novel story although
updated to the 1990's. You will still be able to hear one of
my favorite lines "the children of the night- what music
they make" with all the overtones of Bela Lugosi - probably
the most famous Dracula. In keeping with that Joe Hanrahan,
who wrote the adaptation and directed the piece, has moments
of success but largely a flat production.
One big mistake was having members of the audience shift between
locales for different acts. I can see the reasoning but when
you are on a tight budget what sense does it make to split your
funds and thereby decrease the production values? The lower
level of their space at Lemp would have worked admirably, having
a built-in two tier system which Hanrahan used well in the first
act. However, lighting was a serious problem as was audience
vantage points of seeing all the action. The latter was particularly
bad in the second act with sight lines being completely obliterated
if you did not sit in either the first or second rows and smack
dab in the middle.
The strongest moments were in act 1 as Jonathan Harker, played
with charm by Drew Bell, acts as a narrator to the piece and
explains his motives for travelling to Budapest. I also liked
the haunting incidental vocals of Andra Mitchell Harkins and
Gary Cox's Renfield, however, David Wassaliks' Dracula was part
of another production as his take on old Vlad was truly hammy.
The rest of the cast tried valiantly but cardboard performances
and underwritten characters were prominant and I honestly have
to say that I only saw half the performance as I sat trying
to peer around the people in front and to the side of me.
Revised: October, 2007
© The Midnight Company