Forget about Edward and Bella. This is the REAL vampire story.
Quill Theatre’s production of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” – thankfully – is no “Twilight” series. Playing through Oct. 8 at the Libby S. Gottwald Playhouse at the Dominion Arts Center, it’s darker, more sensual, and bloodier. Needless to say, it’s not for younger children.
Playwright Steven Dietz’s adaptation, directed by Daniel Moore, more closely follows Stoker’s original novel than many film or stage versions. It’s easy to make Dracula more campy than creepy, or to make vampires warm and fuzzy (sorry, Edward). Not Quill’s production, which strikes a nice balance in the first production of its 2016-17 “season of deep desire.”
The centerpiece of the staging is a large brass bed, and much of the action takes place there, from girlish gossiping to vampirical assaults. Strategically dim lighting and frequent bursts of haze add to the eerie set.
Director Moore assembled a solid cast of local talent for the production. Axle Burtness’s portrayal of the immortal Count is marvelously sinister and seductive. Unfortunately, he’s not on stage for much of the production, and the story is told through those affected by his nocturnal wanderings.
Jonathan Harker (Alex Johnson), a young English solicitor, travels to Transylvania to help the reclusive Count Dracula purchase a residence in London and to show him the ways of a London gentleman. Unfortunately, he doesn’t heed warnings of a villager who offers him a rosary before he arrives at Dracula’s castle, so he unwittingly sets off a chain of awful events.
Back in London, Harker’s fiancée Mina (Rebecca Turner) awaits his letters and his return. Mina visits her old friend Lucy (Virginia Fields) and learns that Lucy has three suitors, including Dr. John Seward, who runs a London insane asylum.
At that asylum, Renfield (John Mincks), Dracula’s former manservant, has been driven mad by his master. Seward is obsessed with figuring out what’s going on in Renfield’s head and what drove him to such insanity.
Mincks is both the most entertaining and intriguing character in the play. He scurries about his cell imploring his master to rescue him, cleaning himself like a cat and chomping on spiders and flies. Dr. Seward asks him why he eats them and he replies, “I like animals.”
Dracula arrives in London and immediately preys on Lucy’s lovely neck, leading to strange dreams and unnatural behavior. Seward notices the marks on her neck and calls in Professor Van Helsing (Melissa Johnston Price) for an evaluation. Van Helsing recognizes the bites and devices a plan to protect her. But even garlic and rosaries aren’t enough, and she ultimately ends up with a stake driven through her heart after she has joined the ranks of the undead.
From there, Dracula turns his attentions to the feisty Mina; Seward, Harker and Van Helsing rush to save her, leading to the mesmerizing climax.
The program notes tell us that Stoker’s Dracula was inspired by legends of Vlad the Impaler, born in 1431 in Transylvania, who – in addition to impaling – had some other ghastly methods of killing his enemies.
Quill’s production is long on lust and blood. These vampires are not the marrying kind and while heartier youngsters may enjoy the show immensely, the more sensitive might be better to stick with “Twilight” for a few more years.
See Dracula at the Libby S. Gottwald Playhouse at the Dominion Arts Center, now through October 8. For tickets and showtime, visit Quill Theatre.