Last night I watched a play of Dracula. Not so unusual you might think but I was not in a theatre. This was a version directed by Barry Bell for the Virginia Commonwealth University Theatre and available in two parts online – part one is here and part two is here. They are available streaming or you can download an ipod version or HD version – though be warned the HD versions are a weighty file size (round the 1.7 gig each area). I watched the HD version.
Seward with Renfield
The play was interesting. Like all stage (and film) versions of Dracula it took liberties with the story. For instance, Renfield (Joseph Carlson) opened the play as though in a café or restaurant discussing Stoker and how he made him immortal – before being dragged to his cell and the opening becoming part of his delusion. The play (bar Harker (Andrew Donnelly) in Transylvania and the tracking of the Count back there at the end) took place in one geographic location. Some of the changes seemed odd. The one that served to confuse me the most was the fact that all of Lucy’s suitors were condensed into Seward (Joseph Sultani) – which is quite common – but then the other two were mentioned, Holmwood becoming a judge and Quincey remaining a Texan. Lucy (Lauren English) then rejected Seward as there was another and yet no other featured. Personally I would have cut the other suitor references out. Play was made in script of the rejection incidentally, and I may well have kept that aspect.
The stage craft served the play really well. The stage was on levels with various locations set up. This meant that the director could cross-cut scenes with ease and have multiple scenes occurring at once, when needed. There was a nice crucifix with flame explosion moment. Dracula (Brandon Crowder) was played in an aggressively sensual (or even sexual) way, which suited the character and the tone the director was aiming for. I have to say that his mimicry of Harker – as he learnt English ways – was absolutely one of the best interpretations of that aspect of the novel that I have seen.
devouring the baby
One of my favourite scenes – book-wise and in many of the screen versions – is the vampire bride scenes. I should mention that one change the script made is that Dracula does have an in-castle servant, who puts Harker in danger by removing his rosary. The brides rise up, one from the bed and – of course – Dracula intervenes. Instead of the Harker supposition that the bag Dracula gives them contains a baby, Dracula reveals the contents to add an extra dose of the macabre to the scene. The brides then rip into the babe in the bag, smearing bloody flesh over their mouths. It is, again, a fantastic interpretation. It is much more sinister than the more famous versions and less sensual for being imbued with that baleful quality.
Dracula and Renfield
Main kudos has to go to Joseph Carlson as Renfield. He creates a role that swings from manic to calm in a blink of an eye. A Renfield that is truly dangerously homicidal at times. He is selfishly narcassistic and his rebellion against Dracula seems more due to broken promises than concern for Mina (Marie Weigle). Another addition to the story was that Dracula deliberately burned his destination from Harker’s mind and, in turn, the destinations were also seared from his journal – so the heroes do not know (at first) where the Count’s lair is. Supernatural intervention helps them track him down. This was clever, though one cannot help but wonder why they didn’t check the papers that would have been kept in Hawkin’s office?
Dracula and Van Helsing
Anyway, as I say, this is available to watch for free – and you can’t get a better price than that. There are some story changes that didn’t work too well (mentioning multiple suitors when the characters has been removed and the doubt re the searing Carfax from Harker’s mind) but others that worked very well indeed (a homicidal Renfield and the more sinister brides). The acting was very professional and it is worth your time to watch and (I hope) appreciate the show. Thanks to VCU for making it available.
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