Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Feminist Dracula (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

The NoHo Arts Center is a very nice theatre complex on Magnolia, where I saw a splendid Dracula way back in 2009. Now a new adaptation of Bram Stoker's most famous novel just opened, a Dracula explicitly referred to as a "feminist take.' Upon hearing of this, I was intrigued!

Elsewhere I've described my reaction to the script. This review focuses upon the specific production happening right now in North Hollywood under the auspices of Theatre 68 which commissioned this script.

Begin with the space. It caught my imagination instantly, not least because of an imaginative, even compelling pre-show (presumably the work of director Sohia Watt). Frankly, the rest of the show had a lot to live up to after following that! 

At times it even did.

Sometimes it did not.

Frankly a big part of the blame for this last (which overstates it a bit, to be honest) lies in the script (see link above) which gives barely a hint as to the characters of Arthur (Diego Maureira) and Quincey (Kenneth James) or their mutual love interest Lucy (Ariel Hart), and a tiny bit more regarding Jack Seward (Jude Evans). Cannot blame the actors for not being given much of chance to show what they might do.  Given how the rest of the cast measured up, I must conclude all the actors were of the same quality, but given unequal attention by the writer.

This Dracula belongs to the character of Mina (Rachel Zink) , with  interestingly many of the other major characters taking turns as enemy and ally to her.  One measure of the actors who play Jonathan Harker (Jordan Wall), Professor Van Helsing (David Caprita), Dracula himself (Robert Homer Mollohan), Mrs. Westenra (Perry Smith) and the bug-eating lunatic Renfield (Kristen Lerner) is how all of them succeed in shifting between those roles. Overall, very well!

Mollohan lacked a little consistency, but that also seems inherent in the nature of how this play interpret the character--as a chameleon in some fundamentally emotional manner. He genuinely seemed to be enjoying himself, though, and in a very refreshing change of pace attempted at no time to channel Bela Lugosi, Frank Langella nor Gary Oldman! Bravo! Even his deliciously maniacal laughter proved motivated!

Wall managed the curious balance of Harker, between strength and weakness, anger and tenderness with rather a lot of skill. I never liked him, but then I don't think we were supposed to. Felt sorry for the guy, though.

Caprita's Van Helsing was such an over-the-top misogynist he could easily have been done as a villain from a melodrama. Yet instead he came across as very real, very malevolant in  his way, and yet able enough to prove a useful ally. Sometimes.

Lerner of course got the plum role. Renfield is to Dracula what Gollum is The Lord of the Rings. Small wonder David Manners (who played Harker in the Lugosi film) wanted to play that role--and at least one film adaptation conflated the parts of Harker and Renfield together! Again, the actor involved avoided a trap. Too often in playing madness the temptation exists to create a Batman-eque villain. Lerner avoided that, and (no less impressively) showed a complex set of relationships with those in her time onstage.

Zink really carried the night, though, and did so with a fairly ugly journey of self-discovery. One of the tragedies inherent in this adaptation is the image of two different futures Mina can see embodied in Renfield and in the bitter, almost heartless Mrs Westenra. Because although feminist, this play does not take a Xena-esque approach by turning Mina into a fount of wisdom who puts the vampire lord out of his misery (this has been done a few times, most famously in Bram Stoker's Dracula as well as the Wildhorn musical). Rather, this version is more of a dystopia, a look into a society whose treatment of women makes savagry weirdly attractive.

Along the way, much credit must go to the Succubi (Caroline Henry, Kara Gibson, Isabel Wagner, Anna Yosin) who function not quite as a Greek Chorus--mostly because they rarely speak while literally becoming the set as often as not. It proved a wonderful conceit, giving a dreamlike immediacy to the proceedings!

Yet the nitpicker in me also wants to point out the English accents distractingly inconsistent. Generally the cast did a fine job in that respect (which deserves some applause right there) but the sudden pronunciations shifting from English to American did prove distracting--at least to my ear.

Performances of Dracula are Fridays & Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 7pm through November 1, 2015. Tickets are $25.

No comments: