Arts & Leisure

It’s a new “Dracula” for a new era

“DRACULA” is at the MainStage Theater on the Golden West College campus in Huntington Beach (GWC photo).

By Thom deMartino

But who wants to live forever, really?

The immortality glorified in fiction — in reality, wouldn’t it be more of a curse, to watch the world you know fall away from you, your loved ones descend to the dust, hungering for companionship, with a thirst that can never be slaked? And how could such a hunger or thirst corrode the soul of even the best of humanity?

For a limited time, “Dracula” is currently showing at the Golden West College Mainstage Theater in Huntington Beach with an adaptation that upends the usual portrayals of the immortal Carpathian that audiences may have seen before.

The players are the same: eager young English solicitor Jonathan Harker (Alex Jean) has been tasked to travel to far-away Transylvania, to arrange the purchase of property for a certain mysterious count, while his dedicated and winsome fiance Mina (Carolyn Feres) impatiently awaits his return.

  Mina’s dear friend and confidante, the precocious and slightly scandalous Lucy (Katherenin Heflin) does her part to distract her companion with her own tales of her own suitors coming to court her — including the fixated and determined young Doctor Seward (Matthew Cobb). But while the up-and-coming practitioner is certainly a catch, Lucy seems to be waiting for something, someone… A mysterious and unknown figure…

Seward himself is obsessed with one of the patients he oversees at the local asylum, a madman named Renfield (Patrick Peterson). The troubled man’s obsession with bugs and small animals fascinates the doctor, leading him to insist that if he can “solve” Renfield, he may just gain that much more knowledge about the human mind. But there are things not easily relegated to the scientific realm, and as his would-be fiance Lucy grows ill, Seward finds himself contacting the renowned Professor Van Helsing (Scott Keister), a wise man and scientist who takes a more worldly perspective on the root causes of these phenomena.

While keeping to the shadows, and preying from the edges of the light upon the unending feast that is London, is the mysterious noble, himself: Dracula (Lawrence Hemingway)…

This Tom Amen-directed version is far different version that some viewers may be accustomed to, and that is a welcome surprise: again, all the same players are there, but with some very different dynamics.

The moody design of the production is certainly worth mentioning — the spiderweb-clad, silent demons watching the actions from the sidelines, their graceful, prowling movements adding to the feel of something larger, inescapable: and the stage design, with the sharp angles of the set beneath a sickly yellow moon, giving a sense of madness and even paranoia to the production.

The interactions between the characters is very flowing and natural, with extremely human reactions to the strange occurrences that are happening all around them. Jean’s Harker is not just the adventurous young man, but also a traumatized shell of a man, struggling to find his footing after his experiences in eastern Europe, Cobb’s Seward is both a man obsessively dedicated to his work and a poor soul with an unrequited love that he would do anything for; and Keister’s Van Helsing is a circumspect man of knowledge, not so arrogant as to assume that everything can simply be explained by science, instead believing that faith and it’s seeming opposite can actually work hand-in-hand.

   Peterson’s alternately comedic and dramatic Renfield is a fascinating iteration of the character; manic, driven, fragile, pitiable, and in some strange way, perhaps the most sane of all the characters in his understanding of what is truly happening around them. His early fourth wall-breaking soliloquy to the audience is a welcome addition to the typical telling, providing some framework and perspective on the true merits — and drawbacks — of immortality.

But the most interesting thing about this version is the strength of the female characters, and the portrayal of what, in most productions, is often represented as Dracula’s seduction of his victims. Many times the characters of Lucy and Mina have been used as almost an afterthought, devices to move this story of a terrible nocturnal creature along; but these characters, portrayed by Heflin and Feres, are strong and empowered, particularly Mina. She refuses to remain in the dark, insisting on being kept in the loop about the male characters discoveries about Lucy’s malady, and refuses to stand by idly as spectator to these mysterious events.

One could even go so far as to consider it a “Dracula” for the #MeToo era: Hemingway’s version of the character is less seducer and more predator, pushing himself upon his unwilling victims, and sweeping away the romantic notions of what this cursed being actually is — perhaps on some level, even a victim himself.

A dark gift fans of the horror genre, particularly of the vampire mythos, “Dracula” at Golden West College is a must-see, and only playing for a few more shows: so hunt it, see it, experience it, before it vanishes forever into the darkness.

    Dracula”, Lawrence Hemingway, Carolyn Feres and Scott Keister star in this retelling of the classic vampire mythology with a more progressive twist. Playing through Sunday, October 14 at the Golden West College Mainstage Theater, 15751 Gothard St, Huntington Beach, CA 92647. Tickets available through the box office at 714-895-8150, x1 or at www.gwctheater.com. Some mature content.

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