Dracula Struggles With Structure
Strong acting undercut by confusing narrative flow
Edward Cullen of “Twilight,” Bill Compton of “True Blood,” and other romanticized fictional vampires have overwhelmed recent popular culture, but not without reviving the story of the original blood-sucking seducer, Count Dracula. Dracula is the archetype of the undead neck-piercing monster. The eponymous novel, written by Bram Stoker in 1897, does not feature the first vampire to appear in literature, but it created the vampire we know today—sexy, sleek, and humanized. Stoker’s creation is faithfully reproduced in the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club’s production of “Dracula,” directed by Valeriya Tsitron ’14 and running until November 5 in the Loeb Experimental Theater. The loyal interpretation lends itself to the show’s commendable acting—its greatest strength—but both are somewhat undermined by discordant transitions and a confusing narrative structure.
Steven Dietz’s script follows the original story with only a few altered details. The play traces the events following Count Dracula’s decision to relocate from Transylvania to England for the “banquet” of fresh blood offered by the “teeming millions” in London. The events are narrated by Renfield (Joey J. Kim ’15), a mental patient who claims to have a special connection to Dracula and is under the care of Dr. Seward (William R. Montgomery ’15). Upon his arrival in London, Dracula begins to prey on Lucy Westenra (Mikhaila R. Fogel ’15) and Mina Murray (Lelaina E. Vogel ’15), leading Seward and Jonathan Harker (John F. Morton ’15)—their respective lovers—to attempt to hunt down the blood-sucker with help from famed vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing (Tony J. Sterle ’11).
The characters are uniformly well cast.. Mina—a standout performance by Vogel—is an integral character in the story, a strong-willed and intelligent woman in the late nineteenth century. She is a stable contrast to Lucy’s capricious and faint-hearted nature. Montgomery’s Dr. Seward is also noteworthy, especially in his tense exchanges with Sterle’s Van Helsing. Their fast-paced and emotional exchanges are flawless and engaging. The most enthralling performance, however, is Kim’s as Renfield, the mental patient. His chilling manner of speech and frightening stare are a delight to watch. They act as the locus of the play’s fear and anxiety. The entire cast is impressive, especially in their command of the formal English of Stoker’s time. However, there are some moments when modern accented English slips into the play. Words like “wanna” and “gonna” significantly lessen the authenticity of the performance.
At times, the fact that the play is essentially an exact replica of the book on stage may ostracize those who have not read it. A few portions of the performance lack physical elaboration, including a scene in which the characters simply describe their chase of Dracula while standing on stage. In addition, some of the transitions seem to create significant chasms between the scenes and interrupt the fluidity of the show, negatively affecting the fantasy’s generally engrossing qualities. For instance, in the middle of the play, the happenings in Transylvania between Harker and Dracula are briefly recounted in a flashback, confusing the sequence of events.
Although the play is a traditional reenactment of a classic horror tale, there are moments of modernization. Some improve the production, but just as many detract. The background music for the show includes instrumental pieces from modern artists such as Explosions in the Sky. During the show, these songs are played too loud, focusing the audience’s attention on what they are hearing, and not what they are watching. In contrast, a sensual dance between Mina and Dracula to Florence and the Machine’s “Heavy in Your Arms” is an unexpected but alluring complement to Dracula’s seduction.
“Dracula” is an entertaining show that—despite some structural flaws—ultimately leaves the audience with a shiver up their spine and a chill in the room. The final impression reflects Renfield’s parting warning: “A fear once rooted in your mind is yours forever.”