REVIEW BY CARY GINELL
Undecided on what to do for Halloween? Well, forget about all those faux haunted houses and neighborhood ghost tours. Pack a valise, hop a train to Transylvania, and go see Moorpark College’s production of Dracula. Steven Dietz’s 1996 adaptation of Bram Stoker’s classic 1897 Gothic horror novel turns the story into a thriller, quickly moving from scene to scene with sometimes parallel actions taking place simultaneously on the stage. Dietz’s version retains much of Stoker’s original dialog and characters, but condenses the story so it moves briskly along. The telling of estate agent Jonathan Harker’s forced incarceration in Count Dracula’s castle is told in flashback by his fiancee, Mina, while reading his diary.
Director John Loprieno has gone all out to ensure that his production of Dracula was faithful to the original in both theme and atmosphere and not turned into a campy joke as are so many contemporary productions of the vampire theme, triggered by a plethora of motion pictures on the subject, such as the Twlight saga. In addition to imbuing his performers with the gravity of the story, Loprieno, along with technical director/scenic designer Brian Koehler and costume designer/makeup specialist Haleh Risdana, have created an effective, atmospheric, and appropriately frightful production.
A key to Dracula‘s effectiveness as a period piece is in its depiction of the Victorian era when it takes place. Risdana’s attention to detail, relating to not only style, but color, enabled her, along with her all-student crew, to create a wondrous array of period appropriate costumes. Koehler’s scenic design is skeletal in nature, but filled with oversized moonscapes, chiaroscuro shadows, and unnerving sharp angles in the scenery. An original musical score, composed and performed by Robert Carlson, is effectively eery, compounded by audio programmer Gary Markowitz’s sensurround tableau of sound effects, including wolf howls, echoed, ethereal voices, blood-curdling shrieks, the flapping of bats’ wings, and clanging doors.
Most of the major players are double-cast, but the ensemble that performed last Sunday afternoon was exemplary from top to bottom. Playing the title role were Jeremiah Gray and Brian Atkins, both serving double-duty, swapping parts, respectively, as the blood-starved aged count (in the beginning of the play), and his younger, more vicious apparition. Both utilize Dracula’s thick Transylvanian accent without making it come off as comical.
The narrator of the story is the raving lunatic Renfield, played with maniacal glee by Cory Shackelford, with makeup resembling the Wolfman in mid-transformation, bouncing in and out of a trap door dungeon like a caged animal. Kate Roach (as Lucy) and Sienna Privat (as Mina) are excellent as the young women who become the targets of Dracula’s bloodthirsty quest, but especially outstanding were Getty Olm as the earnest asylum head Dr. Seward and David Hatfield as vampire hunter Dr. Van Helsing. Olm exhibits wonderful acting abilities in presenting his concern for Lucy and resists the urge to engage in histrionics as he and Van Helsing race the clock to apprehend and destroy Dracula. Hatfield shows an impressive command and stage presence as Van Helsing, although he, like Remy Muloway’s Jonathan Harker, tend to speak their lines a little too rapidly at times. Muloway is at his best during the flashback scenes at Dracula’s castle when he first meets the count and we see him slowly become more and more frantic as he realizes his horrific dilemma.
Contrary to expectations, the stage does not get awash in blood; aside from a neat parlor trick that shows Renfield devouring a rat, the gore is kept to a minimum.
Moopark College’s production of Dracula plays through October 26 at the college’s Main Stage Theatre. For ticket information, dates, and showtimes, visit the VC On Stage Calendar.