The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Sink your teeth into one of these ‘Dracula’ stagings

Pablo Guillen as Dr. Seward, Philip Fletcher as Holmwood and Renata Loman as Van Helsing, with Rachael Small (floor, center) as Lucy in Synetic Theater's “Dracula.” (Chris Ferenzi)
3 min

Can our favorite horror stories keep their eerie fun when they critique social ills? Two stage versions of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel “Dracula” speak to that, with varying success.

The show with more teeth, by far, is Synetic Theater’s vigorous “Dracula,” an updated revival of a 2005 adaptation. Directed and choreographed by Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili, respectively, and featuring dialogue as well as Synetic’s trademark virtuoso movement, it’s a vampire romp that admittedly turns campy now and then. Tableaux of enthusiastic biting by Dracula (Dan Istrate) strike an over-the-top note, and the cast’s delivery of Victorian speech can sound goofy even in ostensibly suspenseful scenes.

But the visual inventiveness is eye-catching on the minimalist set, washed by Ian Claar’s dramatic lighting. At one point, the fluctuating arms of Dracula’s slinky, scarlet-clad wives (Maryam Najafzada, Irene Hamilton and Anna Tsikurishvili) seem to transform into the flames of a campfire. At another, Dracula himself morphs into a faceless gray shadow, all the more menacing to opponents such as Van Helsing (Renata Loman) and the plucky Mina (Nutsa Tediashvili).

Notably, before this Dracula becomes a vampire, he’s a human warrior, fighting to repel Turkish forces from his Eastern European homeland. In a pulse-quickening combat scene, bodies hurtle through space, to Koki Lortkipanidze’s brooding music. (Vato Tsikurishvili is fight choreographer.) This image of the battlefield, which recurs, links the menace of the Undead to the grim realities of human xenophobia and war. The connection is profound, yet subtle.

One yearns for subtlety, or just about any artfulness, in “Dracula: A Feminist Revenge Fantasy, Really,” Rorschach Theatre’s awful production of Kate Hamill’s heavy-handed script. For about 2½ sluggish hours, the mostly amateurish acting saps the lifeblood out of a Stoker-based plot, the lone tolerable performances being Phoenix Cross’s drolly businesslike Van Helsing and Ben Topa’s suave Dracula.

Hamill is an acclaimed adapter of classics such as Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility,” and her feminist spin on “Dracula” makes sense, given that gender relations — and, arguably, male anxieties about women’s freedom and desires — loom large in the novel. But the takedowns of male sexism in this 2020 adaptation — including a writ-large parallel between the patriarchy and a certain fanged fiend — are repetitive and obvious.

Director Rebecca Rovezzi’s production is billed as site-specific, but fails to make any interesting use of the space — a vacant firehouse at the Parks at Walter Reed. Past Rorschach projects have innovated commendably with settings and setups, but this show has about as much life as a vampire’s coffin at noon.

Dracula, directed by Paata Tsikurishvili; adapted by Nathan Weinberger from Bram Stoker’s novel; scenic design, Phil Charlwood; costumes, Kendra Rai; props, Aleksandr Shiriaev. About 100 minutes. $20-$60. Through Nov. 6 at 1800 South Bell St., Arlington.

Dracula: A Feminist Revenge Fantasy, Really, by Kate Hamill. Directed by Rebecca Rovezzi; set design, Sarah Markley; sound, Kenny Neal; costumes, Sydney Moore; lighting, James Morrison; fight choreography, Casey Kaleba; intimacy choreography, Megan Behm; props, Mercedes Blankenship. About 2½ hours. $10-$45. Through Nov. 6 at the Firehouse at the Parks at Walter Reed (Building 90, across the street from 6810 Cameron Dr. NW).