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Dracula has bite

Shakespeare by the Sea brings Bram Stoker’s classic novel to life


Logo for Shakespeare by the Sea.
This one's got bite. Logo via Shakespeare by the Sea.

Shakespeare By The Sea’s autumn show, Dracula, is an appropriately creepy and very faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic novel.

The show is set in Transylvania and London in 1893, and opens in a mental asylum, with the voice of Dr. John Seward (Tom Gordon Smith, also the show’s technical director) speaking to his patient Renfield (voiced by Kevin MacPherson), whose scenes are ever veiled in darkness. It is this scene that establishes the show’s overall atmosphere, and Seward’s narration recurs throughout.

Jonathan Harker (Jeff Schwager), a British solicitor on his way to Castle Dracula, is next introduced, describing his purpose in traveling to Transylvania. It is his story that we first follow, and his harrowing experience that begins the action. The scene shifts to a more cheerful one, in which Jonathan’s fiancée Mina (Mary Fay Coady) converses giddily with her friend Lucy (Mara Zigler) about the latter’s three recent marriage proposals, and, more soberly, about Mina’s worries concerning her fiancé’s voyage. Soon, however, the situation grows serious as Dracula (David Patrick Flemming) arrives in England, Lucy becomes mysteriously ill, and the heroes call in Jonathan’s acquaintance Van Helsing (Kevin MacPherson) to figure out what is wrong with her. Van Helsing’s conclusion leads inevitably back to Count Dracula, and inevitably to great peril.

Act One is peppered with humourous moments (“Apart from just now — when you grabbed me by the throat and licked my blood — I have enjoyed my time here,” says Jonathan to Dracula, with Victorian understatement), which lighten the tension momentarily. In the second act, however, this is largely abandoned as matters have grown more serious — Dracula is an immediate threat, and he soon targets Mina as his next prey. Coady does an excellent job of portraying the physical lure of the vampire, tempered with hatred and resistance to Dracula’s seductive nature. As in the novel, Mina’s love for Jonathan is always evident, and one of the play’s most emotional moments comes before the final confrontation with Dracula, when she tells him to kill her if she is turned. It is a chilling moment for them both, and a scene in which the characters’ resolve in the task that they must do is tinged with desperation.

According to Jesse MacLean, the show’s director, Dracula was chosen for its status as a classic — Shakespeare By The Sea performs an adaptation of a well-loved classic story every year, and due to the atmosphere that pervades the Stoker novel, it was chosen for a fall show. The script was adapted directly from the novel, in a process of collective creation. The cast and crew read the book and watched various adaptations, noting the most important elements and characters, finding the story’s centre and deciding what was most essential to it. “This has been a popular story since it was written. We wanted to stay as faithful to it as possible,” MacLean states. This desire is evident in the final production, as the script and characterizations are drawn directly from the novel.

Due to the limitations of a small cast, several characters were either omitted, though referred to, or reduced, as in the case of Dr Seward, who appears as the voice narrating the story and conversing with Renfield. Arthur Holmwood (Lucy’s fiancé) and Quincy Morris (Lucy’s suitor) are both absent, though mentioned, and the script is adapted in such a way that their roles and actions are taken by other characters.

“Many of Arthur’s attributes and lines were given to Mina,” says MacLean. Because of the absence of Arthur and the other suitors, there is a greater focus on Jonathan and Mina. One of the major questions during the creative process, according to MacLean, was “From whose viewpoint are we actually going to tell our story?” Because the novel is told from many different perspectives, it was an important decision for the company to make, and in the end the characters of Jonathan and Mina were chosen.

There are many travel scenes in the book, which the crew had to find an innovative way to portray onstage. The use of shadow puppets is integrated into the show for these segments, as well as some of the effects-heavy moments, such as Dracula’s headfirst climb down a castle wall or his instant transformation into a bat. “I’m really proud of the show,” says MacLean, of both the script and acting and the technical aspects. Thanks to recent renovations in the building, the effects used in Dracula were rendered possible, and used very well.

Dracula runs from Tuesday through to Sunday at 8 p.m. until November 6th, with a 2 p.m. production on Sundays, in the lower parking lot of Point Pleasant Park.

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