I've always been a sucker for a crackling good, edge-of-your-seat horror tale. And, for the past few weeks, I've been anticipating PTC's world premiere of Chuck Morey's new adaptation of Bram Stoker's gothic classic, "Dracula."
The suspense was killing me.Well, now I can let the vampire out of the crypt. Like Nosferatu himself, Morey's script is brilliant and cunning, subtly probing the dark corners and recesses of Dracula's loathsome mind.
This dramatization of Stoker's novel is long - it runs nearly three hours, but it never lags. (Who would ever even dare to doze off in a show like this - you know what happens to those who fail to keep their guard up against the king of the Vampires!)
Morey, who also directed, has a strong cast of professional and interning actors - notably John Wojda as the no-account Count, sensuously seducing young women one moment, hissing like an evil snake the next; Ivars Mikelson as Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, who has a longtime score to settle with the man from Transylvania; Craig Wroe and Aloysius Gigl as Dr. John Seward and Arthur Holmwood, who have both been in love with Lucy Westenra (Bernadette Wilson), but who join forces to avenge her bizarre descent into Dracula's netherworld; Joyce Cohen as Mina Murray-Harker, who becomes one of the key links in the chain being forged to entrap Dracula; and Richard Mathews as R.M. Renfield, the lunatic whose rantings and ravings contain cryptic clues to the mystery.
It's a fine, strong ensemble - aided and abetted by a crew of equally talented off-stage helpers.
Looming constantly over the entire proceedings, like a dark, ominous dream that just won't go away, is Peter Harrison's massive set: the giant, crumbling columns of Drac-ula's eerie castle. Even when smaller set pieces are moved in and out, signifying parlors, bedrooms, doctor's offices, London streets and mausoleums, they are more like tiny figments in our minds - overshadowed by the ever-present reminder that Dracula is still there, somewhere.
Peter L. Willardson's dramatic lighting and James Prigmore's subtle, original music also add a deliciously frightening touch to the unfolding drama.
Like a witch's cauldron, all of these ingredients - an excellent cast, spooky setting, ghostly music and effective lighting - keep the plot bubbling and steaming.
Fight director David Boushey's carefully choreographed action scenes and David C. Paulin's costumes also add to the realism of this new version of "Dracula."
Morey, Harrison and Willardson have also conjured up a few special effects, but - gratefully - the razzle-dazzle is kept to a minimum. It doesn't overpower the substance of Stoker's legendary tale.
Oh, the blood-letting is certainly there, but not in abundance. Basically, this is just a good, old-fashioned, good vs. evil yarn.
While the story wanders (sort of like zombies out for their nocturnal strolls) from Transylvania to the English countryside and back to Transylvania, Morey's script appears to follow Stoker's original concept almost word for word. For transition, Morey uses some interesting narrative devices - letters being written and read, or various characters in the story talking directly to the audience - and these help to tighten up the story theatrically.
(I did wonder, however . . . when Dracula puts the bite on the young women who eventually become his brides - would they be classified as in-dentured slaves?)
I do have one concern, though. It seems rather odd that the show opened on Halloween night and will continue on into the time of year when we're going to see more Christmas productions on local stages. I personally feel it would've made more sense to open before Halloween and close on Oct. 31.
But, like any good horror story, Stoker's tale is really timeless, so whether it closes or opens on Halloween is a moot point.
Will it keep you on the edge of your seat and will you look over your shoulder when you walk back out to the parking lot at 11 p.m.?
It will and you will.
I'd cross my heart and stake my career on it.