One of the scariest moments in Episcopal High School's production of "Dracula" featured a lone actress on stage, cowering in a soft pool of light while all else was dark. Suddenly, the audience's attention was drawn to Dracula's leering silhouette, waiting for the moment to strike. This kind of subtle creepiness drove the most terrifying moments of this classic horror story.
Penned by Bram Stoker in 1897, Dracula tells the story of an unwitting real estate agent who sells land in England to a vampire, and the subsequent quest of Dr. Van Helsing to stop Dracula from usurping the souls of unsuspecting Londoners.
Will Damron's noteworthy performance as Van Helsing conveyed intelligence, strength and fear. Damron's best moment was an interaction with Dracula in which he taunted the vampire with blood from a fresh paper cut, daring him to give himself away.
Will Canine provided an eccentric and amusing performance in the role of Renfield, a sanatorium patient who eats flies and spiders, believing that by absorbing their life force, he can prolong his own. Canine spent one minute talking civilly with the doctors, the next minute rolling on the ground in a hysterical fit. He then leaned into the faces of front-row audience members to express a little attitude.
The technical work was impressive, highlighted by a two-sided revolving set. Special effects such as the sound of howling dogs to signal Dracula's arrival and a fog machine were used to set the mood.
The strength of this show, and indeed any work designed to induce the willies, lay in those moments when the creature, lurking just out of sight, waited for its grand horrific entrance like the proverbial monster under the bed. Most of the time, the cast took full advantage of this creepy element. It could have used it even a little more because it provided some truly spooky moments.
One of the show's best moments came after the final curtain, when Van Helsing turned to the audience gathered in the small theater with a final caution about the undead. "There are such things," he said quietly and seriously, before the theatergoers issued out into the eerie November night.
With Halloween still lingering in the air, the dark, intimate Breeden Black Box Theater at Episcopal High School beckoned the audience with haunting organ music for the school's production of "Dracula."
Bram Stoker's original novel was published in 1897, and the Broadway adaptation, which Episcopal performed, was unveiled in 1927. The play follows Dr. Van Helsing as he attempts to save Lucy from the infamous Count Dracula before she is lost and destined to live as a vampire herself.
The small cast was led by Will Damron, who commanded attention as Van Helsing. His strong voice and mature presence made him the instant focus whenever he was on stage. Damron's character was powerful throughout the show as he worked to outwit Dracula and save Lucy.
As Lucy fell further under the power of Dracula, Renfield, a sanatorium patient, showed the effects of being fully under the count's spell. Will Canine captured the character of Renfield with unfailing energy and haunting laughter. His wide-eyed interaction with audience members kept them on edge, as they didn't know where his character might go next. Canine brought both a piteous, frightened side and a deranged, eccentric side to Renfield. Duncan Smith played the bumbling Butterworth, caretaker at the sanatorium, with good-natured humor and loveable charm.
The lighting and special effects -- watch out for falling bats -- were excellent, and the cast managed all of the set changes without difficulty. Jordan Gant, in charge of makeup, did a convincing job of aging the characters.
Long scene changes were covered with music, helping to keep the audience in the mood of the play. While the cast's energy level was sometimes uneven, there was a sense of confidence portrayed throughout. With only a few lines lost under well-attempted foreign accents, Episcopal's production made for an enjoyable evening.