REVIEW: Dracula – A Tragedy (Redtwist Theatre)

 

Odd adaptation upends clever atmospherics

 

DracMIna

   
Redtwist Theatre presents
   
Dracula: A Tragedy
   
Written by Mark Mason
Directed by Stephen James Anderson
Inspired by the novel by Bram Stoker
Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr, Chicago (map)
Through October 31  |  
tickets: $15   |  more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Along with Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s vampire, Dracula, is among the most iconic figures of horror ever created. Even those who’ve never read the original novel (which you really should) or seen one of the scores of films inspired by it (is there anyone who hasn’t?), know something of the tale, although it has been twisted and turned and altered in innumerable ways.

Mina and Renf in Redtwist Theatre DraculaFor Redtwist Theatre’s perverse and gruesome version, Dracula: A Tragedy, playwright Mark Mason takes more liberties than most. He has appropriated Stoker’s characters but almost none of his plot. Instead we get an incoherent mess of spooky weirdness.

The atmospherics are great. Stephen James Anderson, who doubles as director and designer, has done a great job with the set. Arriving theater goers walk down a long dark corridor past ragged gray-robed figures muttering prayers into a long, narrow black box theater. A woman sits near a fire, working at an old-fashioned manual typewriter. At rear stage, we see a huge crucifix. Shimmery hangings enhance the creepy effects.

The music, muttering and typing continue all the while the spectators file in and the play starts. The effect is spoiled somewhat, though, by the viewers, since without a clear signal of the start of the action, the audience doesn’t know when to stop yakking and turn off their cell phones. It’s a pity, but these times require some kind of announcement.

Playing Count Dracula, Bob Pries looks the part, I’ll give him that. Deep set eyes, sharp nose, widow’s peak, prominent ears — he looks like a handsome Nosferatu — with a hokey Bela Lugosi accent.

Drac has just arrived in England on an exploding ship, and purchased a lunatic asylum, complete with inmates, and the count seems bent on making more crazies.

The novel’s chief victims, Mina Harker (Ariana Dziedzic) and Lucy Westenra (Shannon Riley) have been turned into closet lesbians; the madman Renfield (Dustin Whitehead) is Jack the Ripper. Dracula intends to take over England, apparently by forcing Mina’s husband, Jonathan (Sean Ogren), to impregnate her, an act that occurs on stage in a sort of black sabbath.

 

Koffa JonMina Mina

Anderson does some clever things with the staging, such as characters who crawl onstage out of a fireplace, but he’s aimed his cast somewhere between melodrama and over-the-top camp. That follows the script, which segues between histrionics, violence and sudden, disconcerting efforts at humor — which, judging by audience reaction on opening night — rarely succeed.

Ninety minutes without intermission, this version leaves out Van Helsing, the novel’s chief vampire hunter, as well as two of Lucy’s three suitors, Transylvania and nearly all of power of the original.

Dracula: A Tragedy, might be best enjoyed if you forget about trying to follow the storyline and just take it as a sit-down version of a haunted house. (Some of the seats in the 29-seat theater are backless benches, by the way, so arrive early for a comfortable selection.)

   
   
Rating: ★½
   
   

JonMina

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REVIEW: In Love’s Bright Coils (Genesis Theatre)

Does the way we communicate affect the way we love?

 

 For Web (2 of 4)

  
Genesis Ensemble presents
 
In Love’s Bright Coils
   
Written by The Genesis Ensemble
Directed by Kat Paddock
at The Charnel House, 3421 W. Fullerton (map)
through August 30th  |  tickets: $10  |  more info

reviewed by Allegra Gallian 

Relationships are complicated. Depending on what side a person is on, it can be the greatest adventure or the cruelest fate. Either way, people crave love and affection, often communicating their feelings through the written word. Genesis Ensemble have taken this notion and used it to form their new, original piece In Love’s Bright Coils (the title based on a poem by E.B. White). Directed by Kat Paddock, this experimental piece based on found work seeks to answer the question, “Does the way we communicate affect the way we love?”

For Web (1 of 4) There’s a sense of theatricality even before entering the performance space. The Charnel House is loaded with character and charm. Before the show begins, the audience is led down a hallway lined with letters, text messages, Facebook messages and other types of correspondence. Entering the theatre, the actor’s are already on, filling the space with simultaneous readings of these messages as the audience takes their seats. It’s a sensory overload in a good sense, keeping the eyes moving about the room as this word cluster encapsulates the audience.

In Love’s Bright Coils then officially begins – opening on John and Abigail Adams reading letters they’ve sent each other; then flashing to present time with an angry man (Chris Acevedo) being broken up with through email. His emotions are clearly right at the surface and it’s evident that he understands the character is near breaking point.

The show switches back and forth between earlier times (late 1800’s, 1920’s and 1960’s) with handwritten letters and post mail correspondence to currents times (Facebook, blogs and text messages). The scenes feel a bit disjointed as they jump between time periods, causing one to be momentarily pulled out of the action. Additionally, within the older time period pieces, some of the actors have trouble connecting with the words of the letters, thus losing characterization in the process. More of a back story feels necessary with these vignettes because the letters and actions don’t offer a clear enough explanation. It might make more sense to set the action chronologically – not only would this inform us on how people relate over time, but we’d also experience how communications evolved and what this does to relationships.

The stage throughout the show is bare with a multimedia backdrop, displaying dates, logos and images. The multimedia adds another layer, increasing the interest in what’s occurring on stage. It also acts as a transitional piece, helping to somewhat smooth out the switches between time periods.

A present day scene based on LiveJounal posts is a riot. In a short amount of time, McKenzie Gerber’s character has a clear arch with a fleshed out back-story, which proves to be quite funny. Gerber also moves throughout the space, taking his scene off the stage, which helps the sketch grow as he delves further into the reality of the character.

Karie Miller offers an interesting portrayal of a woman’s careening Facebook addiction, becoming increasingly scattered and spread too thin until her “relationship status” goes from “in a relationship” to “single and unfriended.” Miller fully embodies this social networking addiction and is present in the scene, keeping the audience engaged.

For Web (3 of 4)

Another stand-out vignette comes from present day as well. Two women (Amanda Jane Dunne and Natalie Burtney) have just gone on their first date. Once home, Burtney’s character sends a post-date text. Having yet to receive a response the next day, she spirals into a state of temporary insanity, agonizing over the one meeting, until finally she receives a reply. The scene is wonderfully relatable to the audience, and what comes to mind is, “It’s funny because it’s true” – if we haven’t experienced this personally, then we probably know someone who has. Paddock and Dunne completely embody the characters and portray real, raw emotions that radiate into the audience.

Throughout In Love’s Bright Coils, a man, dressed in black, appears as a messenger and the vocalization of different character’s inner thoughts. Played by Jake Carr, this character is often confusing. In some scenes his purpose is clear as he announces blog posts, email subjects, text messages and instant messages. At other times, however, his character adds nothing save for distraction, once again pulling us away from the main action.

Overall, it’s nice to see Genesis taking these risks. This is a hugely unique show, which is a good thing. The trouble with risks, however, is that sometimes things don’t work out. But by not playing it safe, the ensemble is free to explore new territory, making some very impressionable discoveries.

   
   
Rating: ★★½
   
   

 

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In Love’s Bright Coils plays at the Charnel House, 3421 W. Fullerton. The show plays on Friday/Saturday at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm through August 30. Tickets are $10, and can be reserved by sending an e-mail to genesis.ensemble@gmail.com.

   
   

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