A few years ago, in a different publication, I gave Actors Theatre’s “Dracula” a somewhat mixed review. While a respectable stage adaptation of the classic horror novel, I found the special effects respectable if underwhelming, the narrative drawn out and tedious, and the obsession with annual attendance among local theatergoers a bit of a mystery. In short, I didn’t get it.
Boy, do I get it now.
Actors’ 2014 installment of the now-19-year tradition premiered last week, and it is everything you could want out of the most top-flight Halloween entertainment: spectacle, arch Gothic grandiosity, and more than enough moments to make you shriek with horror – and delight.
You know the story by now: a mysterious Eastern European nobleman has made his way to England, and in his wake has arrived dismal weather, unexplained illness, death, and a general creepiness over the whole of the kingdom. Enter Dr. Abraham Van Helsing and his encyclopedic knowledge of the supernatural to combat the pale, charismatic menace.
Befitting the tradition this production has become, many fan-favorite performers have returned to roles with which they have come to be identified. Randolph Curtis Rand returns for his sixth turn as the evil bloodsucker, bringing a gleefully malevolent charm in the early stages and towering over his nemeses as the action intensifies. Marc Bovino brings a crazed pseudo-suaveness to Renfield that audiences have grown to adore from him. Adapter/director William McNulty is the wise man of action as Van Helsing and brings a rye humor to the part to boot.
“Dracula” is, obviously, a production all about excitement and terror. McNulty sets his cast at an energetic pace, and they dive into the macabre material with abandon.
The tweaks to the special effects are a large part of what keeps the show fresh. This production excels in every way. The design team of Paul Owen (scenery), Tony Penna (lights), Ben Marcum (sound), Lorraine Venberg (costumes) and Drew Fracher (fights) create a world so engrossing and popping with flames, otherworldly wails and unexpected blackouts that you’ll be scanning the theater, dreading the next scare.
The only criticisms are minor issues that are far outweighed by the brilliance of this Halloween staple. The final battle is a bit quick and clinical compared to the preceding action, and the team in hot pursuit of the villain seems to uniformly forget every shred of evidence and experience they’ve gathered for the sake of a “have you read the papers?” joke that fails to land. But these are overthought quibbles with an overall fantastic production.
A few years ago, I said I’d pass on taking up the tradition. After this year, I’m wondering if reservations are available for 2015 yet.
“Dracula” plays at Actors Theatre through Oct. 31. For tickets, showtimes and more information, call 502.584.1265 go to www.actorstheatre.org.
Wayward Brings Sci Fi to Stage with Bixby’s “Man From Earth”
Fans of science fiction rarely find material on the stage to sate their interest in the genre – mainly because there is so little material within the genre that can be pulled off live. But in the best sci fi, profound messages lay beneath the spectacle, and Wayward Actors Company will mine a choice piece of work when it presents Jerome Bixby’s “The Man From Earth” Oct. 3-12 at The Bards Town.
“The Man From Earth” was the final work from Bixby, a prolific screenwriter who contributed to the classic “Star Trek” and “Twilight Zone” series. Bixby finished the screenplay for “The Man From Earth,” put to film in 2007 by director Richard Schenkman, literally on his deathbed. (Schenkman adapted the screenplay for the stage in 2012.)
In “The Man From Earth,” a history professor unexpectedly retires from his teaching position. As his friends and colleagues push for an explanation at his home, he shocks them by claiming to be a 14,000-year-old man who never ages. His friends try to discredit his story, but as it becomes clear that he can be neither disproved nor validated, emotions boil over to a shattering climax.
“It is an intelligent science fiction story that kept me riveted, without any big action scenes or special effects,” said director Craig Nolan Highley. “It played out over a simple conversation among friends, sort of a sci-fi ‘My Dinner With Andre.’ And I just loved the storyâ€™s message, which asks us to rethink our perceptions of our place in the universe.”
For tickets and more information, call 502.749.5275 or go to www.thebardstown.com.