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DRACULA

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 out absurdly.

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 resonance.

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.

Renfield

DRACULA
Adapted by Joe Hanrahan from Bram Stoker's novel (Midnight Productions)
By Sally Cragin
Riverfront Times

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
Midnight Productions
Reviewed by Teresa Doggett
KHDX Radio

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.

 


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Revised: October, 2007
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