The original story of Dracula, written by Bram Stoker in 1897, has evolved through the years into a campy, often ridiculous and generally underwhelming piece of horror comedy. In this new version, by Nathan Jeffrey, the original tone and intention of the story is returned to in order to deliver a profound and disturbingly believable tale of an eternal battle between darkness and light, between hope and despair and between life and death. This handsomely mounted production at Taproot Theatre, directed by Scott Nolte employs a skillful and committed cast to return us to the terror and consequence of the original story. The acting is balanced and convincing, the scenic design by Mark Lund attractive and consistent, the costumes by Sarah Burch Gordon are beautiful and the entire story gathers a frightening momentum that carries us to a sad and satisfying conclusion. I'm not sure how big an audience this will attract, (many will see the title and only think of previous incarnations) but the integrity of all involved reminds us of exactly why this fantastic story has remained relevant for so many years.
While the entire cast is well-balanced and quite finished, I was especially impressed by Jeff Berryman as Dr. Abraham Van Helsing. Both the clarity of his elocution, the brilliance of his mind and the internal, conflicted momentum of his search for the truth about this monster made his character the driving force of the entire storyline. I was also especially impressed by Melanie Hampton as Wilhelmina Murray. Her elegance and personal integrity made her character a solid foundation for all that happened to all the other women in the play. Anastasia Higham played the unfortunate Lucy Westenra, a young woman who is drawn into the inescapable vortex of this personal damnation. Her ultimate victimization was terrible and moving. I liked her early, light-hearted enthusiasm and the brutal transition to becoming that monstrous victim. The other men in the cast, Chris Shea, Rob Martin, Daniel Stoltenberg and Aaron Lamb as Count Dracula were equally successful in creating characters who could not escape their terrible individual fates. Finally, Pam Nolte played three roles; a peasant woman, Renfield and Sister Agatha. She was especially effective as Renfield, a woman condemned to insanity because she only understands a small bit of all the evil that surrounds her.
Don't for a minute think that this is a Dracula for Halloween, or for those campy old movies. This is a very serious story about a time when we understood very little about any part of the world that was other than the everyday surroundings in which we lived. There is a good reason why this story has stayed around so long, stayed relevant to so many people through modern history. The reason is that we all face a battle between good and evil in every day of our lives, in every personal decision we make, and in every value that we place on others and on ourselves. Although there was a bit of tittering when mention was made of bats or other iconic details of the classic story, by the end of the play I think everyone was impressed by the integrity and importance the entire cast and crew brought to this production. There is a Dracula in all of our lives, and this play shines a bright light on that darkest of terrors. What we will make of that battle is a question that can only be answered by each of us.
PICTURED ABOVE: Cris Shea, Melanie Hampton, Aaron Lamb, Rob Martin, Daniel Stoltenberg and Jeff Berryman in Dracula at Taproot Theatre
PHOTO BY: Erik Stuhaug