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DRACULA Festival Theatre/Shaw Festival
By
Aug 14, 2017, 12:01
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Shaw Festival
Through October 14
DRACULA Festival Theater/Shaw Festival

“Dracula” is a wonderful show but the Shaw Festival production occasionally makes you want to be bitten just so it’s over.
This is Liz Lochhead’s stage version of the Bram Stoker novel.
Now, it’s been a while since I read the book but it doesn’t seem as if many incidents in the novel are skipped on stage.
What balances an excessively long play is strong work from Allan Louis as Dracula, Steven Sutcliffe’s Van Helsing, Marla McLean’s Mina Westerman and Graeme Somerville’s Renfield.
There’s also Michael Gianfrancesco’s stage design.
Because this is such a complicated story, it has a lot of locations, from Dracula’s castle in what was the very isolated section of Transylvania to a morose London cemetery.
That’s where the high-tech nature of a 19th Century show kicks in, Alan Brodie’s lighting, Cameron Davis’ projections and music and sound from John Gzowski.
The cast and the story is built around all of this, along with director Eda Holmes’ crafted stage work, particularly the scene changes.
The angle of this story is more open sexuality than allowed openly in the late Victorian Age, when sexual attitudes were said to be prudish, although the number of children the queen had suggests something different as does the number of prostitutes said to be in London.
Someone was getting something, no matter the public image.
Bram Stoker’s story is familiar, from the original novel to innumerable stage, big screen and small screen versions.
The mysterious count (Louis) comes out of the mists of rural Transylvania and wants to go to Britain and hires lawyer Jonathan Harker (Ben Sanders) to come to the remote castle and make sure the paperwork is right.
He leaves behind his fiancé, Mina Westerman (Marla McLean), who has her own demons.
Then the deaths start and something goes psychiatrically wrong with Mina and some die with strange throat injuries.
Harker runs his hospital for the insane (19th Century jargon) and knows something is wrong but can’t figure it out.
In despair, he turns to his old friend Van Helsing and Sutcliffe takes over the show, as the vampire hunter.
He even has a DIY kit to do in the undead.
It’s an acute mix of comedy and tragedy, as the doctor stalks the count and the count appears to be winning as the death toll mounts.
It’s a well-known story, if you believe in vampires and you can certainly believe in sex and mental illness as Louis sells the distorted evil of the vampire.
The real star of the show is the relatively minor novel character of Renfield, the man who knows his master is coming and keeps saying that from his circular cell in Harker’s hospital.
Everyone thinks he’s just crazy because, after all, this is the modern age and there aren’t servants who can order people around from a distance.
In the end, science in the form of Van Helsing triumphs and the count moves from undead to dead.
There’s nothing like a familiar story to excite an audience.
“Dracula” is somewhat easier for those audiences because it’s a lot less complicated than many plays, the triumph of good over evil in a fairly simple way.
The entire production also shows where theater is going, high tech and splashy.
The good points of this production are some strong performances, especially the pairing Louis and Sutcliffe and the spectacle.
The bad point is that Lochhead way back when should have trimmed the show, perhaps 20 minutes without affecting the story at all.
So, the message is: get ready for a strong production which runs too long with some really strong productions and then switch back to read Stoker’s "Dracula" for a sense of that Victorian image-making of sexual suppression and good and evil.

A.W.

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