Dracula | Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

th_dracula.jpgFor a tale that is as much style as it is substance, the Rep put on a feast for the eyes, and despite showing just a drop of blood, the sex and violence was satisfied using buttoned-up Victorian repression and a well-placed fog machine.

 

 

 

October: Classically considered the "witching month," as the days grow colder and shorter, night falls faster and made more eerie with the swirling of dead leaves and dying vegetation. Every year starting October 1, the cotton cobwebs and rubber bats begin to adorn the houses, schools and storefronts, steeping the entire month in spook and superstition, culminating in the ultimate celebration of the occult: Halloween. However, with this year’s record heat waves and surprisingly still-green trees, the 10 month of the year seems more like the last days of a summer, rather than the fall fright we’re used to, an eerie reminder of a more real (and more horrifying) Global Warming end of days scenario.

However, despite the lack of atmospheric cooperation, October will push on, and so will the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, with the "spooktacular" agenda, by staging a production of the classic horror staple, Dracula. The play, adapted from Bram Stoker’s world-famous vampire novel, and directed here by Stephen Hollis, is a revival of the 1927 American theatre staging of the novel about the hyper-sensual (and uber-creepy) Count Dracula. The story is age-old, however, it seems slightly different, as the stage version originally adapted by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston, takes a few artistic leaps, most notably by excising a few characters, and jumping thirty years ahead to the 1920s. However, loyalists of the book and fans of the classic Bela Lugosi movie shouldn’t be too disappointed.

When dealing with a story every man, woman and child has known since grade school, it’s difficult to retain a level of horror and thrill when introducing the Dracula character, here performed with an as-you-would-have-suspected familiarity by Kurt Rhoads, the thrills must come not from the story, but how you tell it. The scene design within the small confines of the Rep, were enthralling, putting us in a Gothic living room setting in the London countryside. The surprising special effects added life to the overly retold story, and each time Dracula escapes capture is more exciting than the last.

The clever use of hydraulics and finding a way to turn a man into a bat (not once, but twice) in front of a packed house proved more entertaining than the run of the mill acting by the cast. The part of Lucy Seward, the victim of the seductive Dracula, was played with not enough sensuality by Julia Coffey, and the part of Renfield, the wicked Count’s madman apprentice, was hammed up to full bombast by Scott Schafer. If there was one major complaint about the performance, it would be the constant overreaching for laughs from the audience. Each time Schafer came onstage he would push for comedy, taking away from any feelings of horror that were being set up elsewhere.

While the acting was for the most part forgettable, the show had legs by being visually stunning. For a tale that is as much style as it is substance, the Rep put on a feast for the eyes, and despite showing just a drop of blood, the sex and violence was satisfied using buttoned-up Victorian repression and a well-placed fog machine. As you catch your first glimpse of the pale-skinned, darkly dressed visitor, you feel like you’re six again, dressed up for Halloween, wondering why, as Dracula, you can still see yourself in the mirror, and in a day and age where the real villains are politicians and climate change, it’s nice to revisit a time when the things that scared you had some imagination behind them. | Josh Gilbert

Dracula runs through November 4 at the Browning Mainstage of the Loretto-Hilton Center for the Performing Arts, 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves, Mo. More info: http://www.repstl.org/.

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