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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
DRACULA
at Classic Stage Company

FRESH BLOOD
By BRIAN SCOTT LIPTON

  Kelley Curran and Jamie Ann Romero/ Ph: James Leynse

In recent years, audiences have come to expect that when writer Kate Hamill’s name is attached to an adaptation of a famous novel, they will embark on an exciting (if not always successful) journey from page to stage. Therefore, it’s no surprise that Hamill has injected plenty of fresh blood into Bram Stoker’s classic horror story, Dracula, now on view at Classic Stage Company (where it plays in repertory with Tristan Bernays’ adaptation of Frankenstein).

Indeed, by gender-switching a couple of main characters, emphasizing the traditional restrictions of women – behaviorally, financially and otherwise – in 19th-century England and practically relegating the title character to a series of well-timed cameos, Hamill has transformed Dracula into a powerful and thought-provoking social statement about feminism. Fear not, though (well, just a little, maybe), Sarna Lapine’s clever production still provides its traditional share of thrills and chills.

As in the original, the cunning Count – embodied here as a petulant supermodel by the white-clad, white-hot Matthew Amendt – is attempting to move from Transylvania to London (where he can add countless victims to his legion of the undead) and has called on the services of a mild-mannered solicitor, Jonathan Harker (a fine Michael Crane), to make the necessary arrangements. As we later learn, though, Harker has been summoned only after his first emissary, a faithful follower named Mrs. Renfield (creepily portrayed by Hamill) – now locked up in an institution, where she feasts on insects and prays for the coming of “her father” – failed to do so because women could not buy property in England.

Gaining a new home overseas, however, soon becomes almost a secondary task to Dracula once he discovers Harker’s pregnant wife Mina (a superb Kelley Curran, reminiscent of Emma Thompson) is visiting her still-virginal school chum Lucy (a beautiful Jamie Ann Romero), whom he is determined to claim as his latest victim. And once she falls prey – rather easily – to his call, the battle of good versus evil accelerates into high gear with Mina joining forces with Lucy’s slightly buffoonish fiancé, Dr. Seward (a very funny Matthew Saldivar), and the mysterious Dr. Van Helsing, who has clearly fought this fight before.

In Hamill’s most revolutionary revision to the story, Van Helsing is now an African American female, dressed in cowboy-like gear (but constantly reminding everyone she is an actual doctor), and ready to take no prisoners no matter which side they’re on. While this character has been vividly written by Hamill, it is the brilliant acting of Jessica Frances Dukes that really adds three-dimensionality to the role. As a result of both women’s efforts, Van Helsing becomes the work’s central figure once she arrives on the scene. Dukes also ensures that we believe Van Helsing is able to both bring out the true inner strength of Mina, who throws off the shackles of societal expectations, and convince Dr. Seward that women are not just to be ordered about nor taken lightly.

The uniformly excellent acting on display is also vital, since, as is often the case at CSC, the production values are fairly minimal. The company’s artistic director, John Doyle, relies primarily on a back-of-stage curtain to effect scene changes.  Costumer Robert Pendoza has essentially given each character one fitting outfit to wear for the show’s two-hour-plus running time. Lighting designer Adam Honore and sound designer Leon Rothenberg do all they can to heighten the atmosphere with their resources.

Ultimately, though, the production’s physical limitations do very little to diminish the story’s bite. This is one Dracula you can count on for an evening’s worth of worthwhile entertainment.

 


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