Tonight was the second performance of Dracula directed by Carmen Ball. I’m a fan of horror stories and so I had to take a seat at Gaslight Theatre and see Bram Stoker’s telling of the blood sucking count we all know and fear. I was familiar with (and in some cases had worked with) almost all of the cast involved. I had high expectations of the acting, but there was doubt of being able to generate suspense, much less terror in this rather cold and desensitized heart of mine. Yet, there were moments I felt my chest tighten and it wasn’t due to the tight undershirt I was wearing. Here are the highlights.
The show opens with one of Gaslight’s best current actors, Daniel Johnson, in the role of “Renfield” (Dracula’s faithful, but insane servant). His delivery was full of appropriate grace and conviction. I would have liked to seen a slower progression from the eloquent gent to the revelation of his insanity by the end of his introduction, but there was nothing lost. Johnson danced about the stage, carrying a role that I believe would have been far more difficult for most other local actors to accomplish, being over-the-top believable, frightening, and funny. He did all of this and never lost his energy throughout the show. It was a balancing act, that left the floor clean. I’m particularly critical of this actor, because I know how good he can be, and in this role he did not disappoint.
Other peaks of the show involved Rebecca Ralstin and Leslie Newell as friends, “Lucy” and “Mina.” I almost wanted to put on a nightgown and join their slumber party if it weren’t for the fear of vampires and the fact that my legs are pale and hairy. Ralstin and Newell…ahem…fed off of each other in their scenes. I loved that I “knew” them within their first few lines. It was a convincing friendship of a free spirit and a conservative ingenue. They were fun to watch and when the scenes got heavy, they were able to transform to fit the darker areas of the show. I felt the audience responded to both ladies with great attachment. Some of Ralstin’s choices in particular were bold and risky, but she went forward with a confidence that sold her part.
A final element that grabbed me was the use of music and sound. Almost all of the selections were used in places that truly enhanced the story, without overpowering. There was one scene towards the end that I felt got a little jolting. I felt that the volume was perfect through most scenes, which can prove tricky. Some people neglect the fact that the volume can change to fit a story. Whether intentional or by accident, I appreciated the outcome.
It is hard to find fault with the show. What I did see was minor or matters of taste. I did not care for Dracula’s (played by veteran, Monte Hunter) costume choices when he first meets Harker. I did not understand the wig or attire, as in it didn’t tell me anything. I was also concerned because in Act I I did not feel that Dracula was intimidating or ominous. However, by Act II, his display was much more solid and the “villain” was fully present.
When it came to the script, I found myself lost a few times. I forgave it, because I got the bulk of the story. These aren’t things the director has much control over and it may have been something I simply missed. There were some stage and lighting choices that I questioned, but meh. Like I said earlier, those are more matters of personal taste (which could be yet another vampire reference).
The rest was a strong chain of stage talent. Tim Johnson (as Johnathan Harker) was perfectly innocent without being bland. On reflection (another vampire reference…did you catch it?), I would find Harker a challenging role to play, because he must be likeable and vulnerable, but without being weak. Frank Baker provided a great tone to Van Helsing, diverse from scene to scene. Peter Roller came in late to cover the role of Dr. Seward and did a fine job. Even the extras brought in worthy performances.
All in all, I would say a successful show that probably accomplished what it set out to do. Without hesitation, this would be my favorite “Halloween show” and I might possibly go so far as to say that it is the best show I’ve seen from director Carmen Ball, though I suspect she is a vampire. I mean…I’ve never witnessed her looking into a mirror. Frank Baker seems heavily devoted to her. Plus she hasn’t aged since I met her.
There, I’ve written a positive review and complimented her. If she is a vampire, maybe I’ll be safe.
Happy Halloween! Go see this show!