In the Director’s Note of the playbill, John Lunman tells audiences they will have a grand time in preparing to meet their nightmares in Bram Stoker’s DRACULA by Stephen Dietz. There were numerous moments at Peterborough Theatre Guild’s opening night where the audience was indeed having a grand ol’ time in this invitation for all of us to visit the darker side of human nature.
An extremely warm fall evening on Rogers Street provided an interesting juxtaposition of weather extremes. While audiences enjoyed the air-conditioned comfort of the Guild Theatre, the characters of the story must survive in dank dungeons, decrepit cemeteries, smog-filled London streets and lifeless chateaux. Mr. Lunman calls DRACULA an adventure story, and this cast rises admirably for the challenge in leading us on a journey of suspense and thrills.
Upon entering the theatre proper, we are immediately transported from the local heat and humidity of Peterborough to a grandiose setting of an open concept castle chamber complete with high Gothic columns and large windows. Set designer Melanie Baker and her team of builders have created an extraordinary impressive room chamber housing a bed resplendently covered with a deep red spread which, in the Second Act, becomes a grave for the undead. Traditional Romanian gypsy music selected by Derek Weatherdon gorgeously underscores the setting as we wait for the production to begin. Reese Brunelle and Linda Lyons stylishly project slow moving clouds on the back wall which gradually cover the moon. This special effect enhances even further the eerie world of the famous (or infamous) Count.
Costumes by Gayle Fraser, Chelsea Day-Ross, Jayne Martin and sewers Gwen Hope, Jayne Martin and Lori Mosienko beautifully capture the time frame of the attire at the turn of the twentieth century. Of note is the lushness of the colour red underneath the ebony blackness of Dracula’s cape. Hair and make up effects (headed by Shelley Moody and her team) complement each character development as the story progresses. For example, Renfield’s wildly teased hair nicely reinforces her state of madness as she is chained to the dungeon wall. Prop pieces for period plays always pose challenges for those who assume this task. Kudos to Barb Mills and her team for finding appropriate objects from the era.
Sound and lighting effects are of utmost importance especially in telling the story of DRACULA. Rick Szajkowski, Derek Weatherdon and their team weave their magic to create moments of surprise and horror while heightening moments of true love, passionately sexual overtones and sensual dialogue.
Since Mr. Dietz’s version of this story is not meant to be campy, it takes a keen awareness in direction to ensure rehearsals must focus on not falling into this trap. Yet even Shakespearean tragedies use comic moments for relief and, thankfully, they are employed in this production as well. We see this in Renfield’s (Katie Lunman) opening monologue where we learn some biographical information about Bram Stoker. Throughout the evening sometimes in nursery rhyme and sometimes in dialogue, Miss Lunman captures adeptly and clearly the comic and layered nuances of a lunatic in Dr. Seward’s insane asylum. A shocking turn of events (no pun intended) involving Renfield in the second act produced gasps from the audience, and Miss Lunman is to be commended for creating a frightening moment.
Sabrina Keyes (Lucy) and Elektra Watson (Mina) offer good performances of two distinct women who experience much development and growth especially in their love lives. Dr. Seward and Lucy share a highly touching and believable moment in the first Act where she still cares for the man even though she chooses not to marry him. As Mina, Ms. Watson patiently awaits her lover, Jonathan Harker, to return from his business trip and corresponds with him through most of Act 1 in letters. The initial ‘girl talk’ at the top of the first act hits the right notes in pacing and timing. Nevertheless, I had some difficulty in hearing clearly both Ms. Keyes and Ms. Watson’s delivery of expositional dialogue at various times in both Acts. As performances continue, I’m sure they will be mindful of this next step.
Jacqueline Barrow as Van Helsing is a strong presence on stage as a philosopher and researcher of unexplainable and supernatural illnesses. Ms. Barrow’s expositional dialogue delivery at times isn’t clear especially in the second act. Again, as performances continue, I’m certain she will be mindful of enunciation. Ensemble members Elizabeth Moody, Kat Shaw and Lily Gordon are fun to watch as they switch in characters from vixens to asylum attendants and maids.
As ‘Brit Twit’ Jonathan Harker, Bryce Sage pokes fun at his character and eccentricities through his ‘clenched teeth’ delivery of his letters in the first act as he is on a business trip selling land in the Carpathian Mountains to Count Dracula. David Adams, as Dr. Seward, shows us a very human man who has probably been jilted before in professing his love to the child-like Lucy. There is a strength of character within him as he must not allow his personal emotions to overshadow his pursuit as a doctor, and Adams clearly shows this quality in his secure on-stage portrayal.
Andrew Little shows no hesitation in his performance of the title role. His Count offers another possible understanding and interpretation of this iconic figure. Dracula appears about half way through the first act; even though he is a mere observer of people and events at this stage, Mr. Little makes us watch his every silent move. While his Dracula may initially appear boyish and youthful, Mr. Little’s height and jet-black hair combined with piercing looks and longing gazes from his eyes reveal underneath a heightened and controlled sexual appetite to quench his vampiric thirst. Not an easy task to accomplish, but Mr. Little is obviously relishing in the moment.
So much work goes on behind the scenes to capture a specific look and appearance of any play, and this is where a Stage Management team is hard at work for countless hours. Props to Tracy Magee-Graham and her crew who are impeccably organized to keep the 117 technical cues in this production operating as smoothly as possible.
Performances of DRACULA continue September 28-30 inclusive and October 5-7 inclusive at 8 pm with matinee performances October 1 and 7 at 2 pm. The Guild Theatre is located at 364 Rogers Street, Peterborough. You may purchase tickets either by calling the Box Office at 705-745-4211 or online .
Production Manager: Karen Workman, Stage Manager: Tracy Magee-Graham, Director: John Lunman. With David Adams, Jacqueline Barrow, Lily Gordon, Sabrina Keyes, Andrew Little, Katie Lunman, Elizabeth Moody, Bryce Sage, Kat Shaw, Elektra Watson.