Monday, October 29, 2007
A date with Dracula
I'm not much of a theatre-goer (and by theatre, I mean live stage perfor-mances), but a couple weeks ago an ad in the local newspaper caught my eye and Halloween-addled brain: The neighboring Amesbury playhouse was putting on a performance of Dracula.
With two young children it's rare these days for my wife and I to have the opportunity to get out. But this night my mother was available to babysit and we jumped at the chance. At first we debated the typical dinner and a movie ("Gone Baby Gone," or some other mildly entertaining but ultimately forgettable fare), but then by chance I happened to recall the newspaper ad. We both decided that a date with the undead was preferable to Ben Affleck and decided on Dracula instead.
Dracula has always been one of my favorite novels. Many people shy away from it due to its age, and the greater accessibility of modern, popular horror writers (Stephen King and Dean Koontz come to mind), but if you've haven't read Dracula, you're missing out. It's a great story with a rich atmosphere and it still packs a scare. Author Bram Stoker could write, and his characters--Van Helsing, Jonathon Harker, and the unforgettable Count, among others--are truly great literary creations.
We had dinner and drinks as we waited for the show, and not until the play started did we realize that the waitstaff made up half the cast. That was probably the coolest element of the show--the small dimensons of the playhouse and the closeness of the actors made you feel like you were a part of it.
The show was enjoyable. It had its faults, including one actor and one actress with limited acting ability who didn't deliver their lines very well. The crew only changed sets once, using the same room for most of the show (a Victorian-style living room) and ending with Dracula's subterranean tomb. There was some issues with the sound, and at a few points I found myself straining to hear.
But the low points were outweighed by the good. The actors who played Van Helsing and Dracula were excellent, and Renfield was wonderfully manic and over-the-top. The lighting and music were suitably creepy. And in the coolest touch of all, Dracula emerged from the rear of the playhouse in the final act, striding amongst the crowd with his billowing black cape and protuding incisors and drawing screams of fright and excitement. Soon after he disappeared into his coffin, Van Helsing, Dr. Seward, and Jonathan Harker also made their way through the crowd, pursuing the fleeing vampire with stakes and mallets.
Afterwards the cast came out into the crowd to chat and have a few drinks. The sight of some star-struck pre-teens asking for autographs did my heart good, as it was nice to see some respect paid to a troupe of actors performing for the sheer love of acting, and not the money. I spoke for a few minutes with Tom Seiler, a 60-something man who'd been acting for 33 years, as he told me, and congratulated him on his fine portrayal of Van Helsing. He encouraged me to come back again, and after my experience watching Dracula, I probably will.