Review: “Dracula”

The Hypocrites DRACULA Breon Arzell as Dracula and Maurice Demus as Jonathan Photo Brett A. Beiner

SOMEWHAT RECOMMENDED

Where: The Hypocrites at Mercury Theater Chicago, 3745 N. Southport Ave.
When: through Nov. 5
Tickets: $30-$55
Phone: 773-325-1700

By ANNE SPISELMAN
Theater Critic

Leave it to The Hypocrites’ Artistic Director Sean Graney to turn “Dracula” into a glorification of girl power.

Working from an original script by Timothy F. Griffin, the first in his trio of plays based on Bram Stoker’s 1897 epistolary novel, Graney has adapted and directed the story of the Transylvanian vampire count’s efforts to take over England in such a way that the women, delicate Victorian maidens in so many versions, consistently take matters into their own hands, while the men, the human ones at least, are comparatively ineffectual.

The first act focuses on Lucy (Janelle Villas), who is being courted by Dr. Seward (John Taflan) but is reluctant to marry him and, at the same time, is having an affair with Dr. Van Helsing (Robert McLean). She falls prey to Count Dracula (Breon Arzell), who has taken up residence on the estate next to the doctors’ asylum where she’s staying, but not before he elicits her consent, the first time he’s done anything of the sort, according to one of the fiendish nuns who were his earlier victims and now feed on his rejects. And once transformed, Lucy is so fierce and bloodthirsty, she commits horrific acts and can barely be stopped.

In the second act, it’s Lucy’s friend Mina’s (Aurora Real de Asua’s) turn to show her mettle. Engaged to Jonathan Harker (Maurice Demus), the London solicitor who in the play’s opening scene traveled to Transylvania to finalize the real estate deal with the Count and got more than he bargained for, she takes the lead in battling the vampire and makes a significant sacrifice in the process. She also cares for her fiancé but ultimately declares she has no intention of marrying him.

The third female protagonist is Alice Renfield (Erin Barlow), a male character in Stoker’s book. Though she has become Dracula’s minion and pretty much gone mad because of her visceral link to him, she finds the strength to loosen his hold and help the women who have befriended her. Barlow’s delightfully zany performance is one of the highlights of the evening, and aficionados will get a kick out of the in jokes, such as Alice’s attitude toward eating insects as opposed to….well, I won’t say.

Admittedly, the show, a Halloween treat that opened on Friday the 13th, is not for everyone. The plot is very convoluted and includes related tales of ghostly ships and such that can be a little confusing if you’re not familiar with the novel. The style is high camp with little in the way of character development. And besides plenty of lust, you can count on epic fights with lots of gore and buckets of stage blood, so much that there’s a violence/gore designer, Jon Beal, who does a fine job.

The staging gives the show a confined storybook feel and makes me think of small 19th-century theaters. John Musial’s scenic design for the proscenium arch stage features a small room with a ceiling and all except the fourth wall. It is sort of in perspective, with a central vanishing point, and easily switches from the Count’s castle to the asylum to Mina’s home. Mike Durst’s lighting does some of the work and combines with Joe Griffin’s sound design for stormy and spooky effects. Samantha C. Jones funky costumes occasionally suggest the Victorian era but certainly aren’t of it.

Graney and The Hypocrites have been responsible for brilliant productions like “All Our Tragic.” Unfortunately, “Dracula” is not one of them. But the politically correct stance is commendable, and it’s entertaining enough to be good for a Halloween date night or dedicated horror fans.