Berkshire Theatre Group Offers a Ghoulish Good Time with Dracula
It seems like Halloween has swept into the Colonial Theatre this week, where Dracula has taken up his latest residence. Based on the novel by Bram Stoker, the story of the undead was dramatized by Hamilton Deane in 1924 and revised by John L. Balderston in 1927. The revised play was the basis for the classic Bela Lugosi film and again on Broadway in 1977 starring Frank Langella. Now under the auspices of the Berkshire Theatre Group, Dracula is draining blood from the unsuspecting under the guidance of Pulitzer Prize and Tony award-winning Director David Auburn.
Professor Van Helsing comes to investigate the mysterious illness of Lucy Seward the daughter of her friend Dr. Seward. With the help of Seward, his staff, and Lucy’s fiance they come to the realization that the powerful vampire, Count Dracula has been feeding on her blood. Without fear of giving away the plot I will say that after much flailing of Wolfsbane in Dracula’s presence and eventually a stake to the heart, everyone (almost) lives happily ever after.
The show has made wonderful use of special effects, Daniel J. Kotlowitz’s perfectly eerie mood setting lighting design and projections, combined with Scott Killian’s wonderful sound design all wrapped up in Bill Clarke’s lush scenic design with characters dressed in Hunter Kaczorowski’s spot on costumes create an ideal visual and auditory spectacle for this Dracula to menace.
Director Auburn has kept the best of the past, in this melodrama, accentuating the dramatic moments and pulsating the high comedic moments. Auburn has guided his cast allowing them to appear real; people whom the audience can connect to in spite of the melodramatic world in which they are living. He has added a major contemporary update by turning the role of Professor Von Helsing into a woman.
Emma Geer, as Lucy shows the greatest range as she takes her character from a myriad of emotions, whether she is in her own mind or under the control of the feared Count. She does an impressive job flipping from one world to another throughout the play. David Adkins, a Berkshire Theatre Group stalwart returns to the stage in this nuanced drama. Dr. Seward, the fraught physician, tries desperately to help his daughter, Adkins goes from fevered pitch to emotional frustration as he paces around the stage. Adkins has done a masterful job creating ups and downs in a role that is, much like the others in the play, a somewhat one-dimensional character.
Brian Thomas Abraham and Jessica Ko are an absolute joy to watch as the staff, Butterworth and Miss Wells respectively. Their comic timing and the way the two play off one another are always a tension breaker in the show. Matt Sullivan returns to BTG as the crazy hysterically funny R.M. Renfield, an in-patient of Seward’s who offers the voice of sanity in what is, by his own admittance, from the mind of a lunatic. Sullivan has clearly mastered the art of comedy. Nome SiDone is Jonathan Harker, Lucy’s finance is unable to offer the real subtleties that this production requires in order for the audience to feel any connection to his character. He delivers his lines in a one-note hysteria that is just not able to connect any sense of realty to his audience.
The show belongs though to the forces of good and evil: Mitchell Winter’s Dracula and Jennifer Van Dyck’s Prof. Van Helsing. Winter as his name ironically suggests, presents his character with a chilling laid back, calm sly demeanor. Winter appears on and off the stage with entrances so quiet it is as if a cold wind has stirred up from nowhere. His smooth sexy charm acts is the total counterpoint to Jennifer Van Dyck’s Van Helsing. She enters like a whirling dervish and from her first entrance to her final curtain call, never stops. What a joy to watch. There are times when you swear the woman never stops to breathe. Winter’s calm actually incites Van Dyck’s character to greater frenetic action.
To those of a certain age, the TV soap opera, Dark Shadows will come to mind almost as soon as the curtain rises on the dark, foreboding stage where we are immediately aware something sinister is about to happen before any action occurs. Dracula is a fun two hours of theater, broken up by two brief ten-minute intermissions to allow for set changes. It might only be August, but the chill of October and Halloween is clearly in the air at The Colonial. It is a breath of fresh air on a warm summer day and a wonderful fun time in the theater though you may wish to consider wearing a turtleneck or scarf on this visit to the theater.
Dracula runs, or flies into, The Colonial Theatre through August 27. Masks are required in the theatre. Tickets start at $65. For more information: www.berkshiretheatregroup.org or call 413-997-4444.