“Dracula” at Berkshire Theatre Group passionless and bloodless
One of the few reasons to see the production of “Dracula,” playing through August 27, at The Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, MA is to experience the original script that premiered on Broadway in 1927.
It was first adapted for the stage from the Bram Stoker 1897 novel by Hamilton Dane . It was further revised and condensed by John L. Balderston for the Broadway hit. This is the script used by the Berkshire Theatre Group.
Oddly, the most enjoyable aspect of the production is admiring the improvement of theater technology since that time.
Bill Clarke’s scenery is classic turn-of-a-20th-century Gothic sanitarium dominated by beautiful dark wood.
Lighting by Daniel Kotolowitz gives a haunting feel to proceedings and changes just enough to properly add mood to key moments in the presentation.
Especially effective is the sound by Scott Killian. Meanwhile, Hunter Kotolowitz’s costumes clearly define each character.
Certainly not available in 1927 are projections of bats and cloudy nighttime skies. Sadly, Daniel Kotolowitz’s effort in this area is less satisfying.
The acting is fun, in spite of the context. Most of the performances are high energy. Fortunately, they fall just short of camp as the actors play broadly without going over the top. (At least not too far.) It’s an achievement - as the work begs not to be taken too seriously.
However, director David Auburn’s choice to be faithful to the style of the original denies the production any freshness.
The bloodsucking vampire, Count Dracula, was originally portrayed by Bella Lugosi. In the 1931 black and white film his interpretation became iconic. In the various adaptations over the years, the image of Lugosi performance dominated the story.
That changed with the 1977 revival. Frank Langella’s interpretation brought charm to the role and a sexual subtext to the show.
It created the sense that his refined female victims of the Victorian era were willingly seduced by this ultimate bad boy monster. The horror in the show became psychological and sensual as well as life-threatening.
This production is as passionless as it is bloodless. Mitchell Winter as Dracula lacks the compelling charm and wit of a man to whom females are drawn.
Lucy, is played so much girl next door she seems sexless. This problem is made worse by her relationship with her fiancé, Jonathan Harker. Jonathan is played so blandly by Nome SiDone you are almost rooting for the evil Dracula to sweep Lucy away.
As for bloodless, there is nary a trace to be found. Indeed, when a stake is driven into Dracula’s heart, the moment is so sanitary, it could have happened off stage.
Despite these severe flaws, the performance of Jennifer Van Dyck as Dracula’s nemesis, Professor Van Helsing, captivates you.
If you need passion in the play she delivers it with her single-minded pursuit of destroying Dracula. Van Helsing is a determined, fierce scientist who immediately takes charge of solving Lucy’s mysterious affliction.
She has to utter most of the play’s clichés and she makes them appear as honest discoveries. Her Van Helsing is abrupt, determined and courageous.
She also has a handbag that includes an abundance of items that could thwart any creature of the occult.
Lucy’s father, Dr. Seward, is the head of the sanitarium. Played with determination by David Adkins, he is a man of science. As such he first resists Van Helsing’s theories. But his love of his daughter soon has him playing Dr. Watson to Van Helsing’s Sherlock Holmes.
The most refreshing portrayal is by Matt Sullivan as Dracula’s minion R.M. Renfield. He plays the man who eats flies and serves other flies to spiders to fatten them for dessert.
He knows he is crazy, but Sullivan also gives Renfield moments of clarity that make him the only person in the play who displays anything resembling free will.
If a little more conflict rather than simple blind convictions had been displayed by other characters the play might have some nuance.
It might be asking too much from a slight work, but some complexity might have had us leaving the theater wondering more about the occult and the fear it generates in the human mind.
But this production is not about fear. It’s about entertaining by using otherworldly entities.
“Dracula” by Berkshire Theatre Group at the Colonial Theater in Pittsfield, MA. Through August 27, For tickets and schedule information call 413-997-4444 or go to Berkshire theatregroup.org
Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.
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