As the audience entered Walt Whitman High School's auditorium Saturday night, they saw a stage enveloped in fog. Three azure beams of light were projected through the air, and dynamic instrumental music filled the room. It was the chilling preface to a production of "Dracula."
Written by local playwright Rachel Safier and closely based on Bram Stoker's original Gothic thriller, this version of "Dracula" tells of the late 19th-century Transylvanian Count Dracula, a vampire, and his victimization of a young woman, Lucy Westenra, and her friend, Mina Murray. With the help of the Dutch scholar Abraham Van Helsing, Lucy's three suitors and Mina's fiance uncover the mystery behind Dracula's power and, after the deaths of Lucy and Mina, destroy the count.
Whitman's cast delivered a very spirited premiere of Safier's script. As Dracula, Chris Carothers showed the strength behind the world's most famous vampire. Carothers forcefully portrayed Dracula's dark power and sensual devilry. As Dracula drank the blood of his victims, he grew younger and younger. Very skillfully, Carothers adjusted his mannerisms to reflect this change.
Sammy Zeisel superbly portrayed R.M. Renfield, an oddly disturbed mental patient in the care of John Seward, a physician and one of Lucy's suitors. Zeisel's extreme vocal expression and physicality perfectly illustrated the psychotic Renfield, who was controlled and eventually killed by Dracula, his "master."
The high-energy performances of many actors were accompanied by consistently dazzling, if at times a bit dizzying, technical effects. Ike McCreery's lighting design was spectacular, creating a palpable sense of excitement.
The special effects, by Sarah Rhoads, Emily Bell and Jeremy Guterl, provided for some eerie moments, such as when Dracula used his dark magic to summon a wine bottle from across the table. The show's frequent blood effects were very well executed, if perhaps a bit overdone.
The mobile set design, by Guterl, Chris Kallas, Isabel Moris-Look and Claire Marberg, was very practical, while remaining true to the ornate, Gothic architecture of the time period. In Whitman's "Dracula," energetic acting and superb technical work combined to deliver an adrenaline-filled evening.
Westfield High School,
Bram Stoker's Dracula is a well-known image: the tall, pale Transylvanian count, dripping with his victim's blood. This was also the image used in the "Dracula" adaptation written by Rachel Safier for Walt Whitman High School.
In the play, Dracula journeys to London, seeking Jonathan and Mina Murray, and Mina's friend Lucy. Lucy succumbs, and her three suitors, with the aid of Abraham Van Helsing, succeed in killing Dracula. Meanwhile, Renfield, a mental patient, worships Dracula.
The action was supplemented by Andrew Glor's video segments, which were projected on two screens flanking the stage. At times, the videos were very creative, contributing to the mood with images of scenery such as forests and a graveyard. Other times, they were a bit distracting. The lighting, too, was creative and energetic, though it sometimes interrupted the flow of scenes or changed too rapidly.
The cast worked as a cohesive ensemble, even in chaotic group scenes. Nikki Massoud effectively portrayed Lucy Westenra as both a popular socialite and crazed vampire. Chris Carothers as Dracula even offered a glimpse into Dracula's past humanity.
Sammy Zeisel powerfully portrayed Renfield's mental illness. Scenes at the psychiatric institution between Renfield and Seward (Bennett Clarkson) were particularly captivating. Clarkson, Matt Glenn and Jacob Schalch were enjoyable as Lucy's suitors and closest friends. As American cowboy Quincy Morris, Schalch added an occasional dose of comic relief.
Most of the actors' British accents were accurate, but some foreign accents were hard to understand. Although the technology in this show was at times a little grandiose, and the gore a little extreme, they together conveyed the required fantastic elements of the play. Whatever the challenges, the performers handled them well.
St. Andrew's Episcopal School,