While the theatre-going experience is, first-and-foremost, about the play, there’s certainly something to be said for ambiance. And, in the case of Dauntless Productions’ performance of Dracula, I have to recommend the play to anyone (young viewers not included) with even a passing interest in Halloween/vampires/things spooky/the Masonic temple. See this show — which runs through Saturday, Oct. 30 — if only for the experience of being in the appropriately spooky Masonic Lodge (80 Broadway St., Asheville), in its two-level auditorium (there’s a picture of the theatre here). In fact, it’s the theatre and the century-old backdrops — which Dauntless uses to maximum effect — that really make the play.
There’s been some confusion about Dauntless’ connection to Montford Park Players. The company is, in fact, its own entity and this production of Dracula is not a Montford Park Players creation, though MPP has signed on to produce a winter season at the Masonic Lodge, and some MPP members are in Dracula, and MPP is selling the tickets. Another note: There are fewer than 50 seats in the Masonic theatre’s lower level. Arrive early to claim one of these seats. However, should you be seated in the balcony, don’t be discouraged by the limited view of the floor. The production company makes excellent use of the space, and the curtain opens to reveal an extensive stage area that’s easy to see from the second-floor seats.
Dracula opens dramatically, with actress Meg Hale delivering her lines while perched on the balcony ledge over the lighting fixture. From there, the action lags a bit as actors set up the back story through a stilted series of interconnected monologues via letters and journal entries. These short scenes are spaced by scenery changes, which are interesting but time consuming. Indeed, the first act clocks in around one-and-a-half hours (rest assured, act two is much quicker).
Early on, there are some stand-out performances. Hale is a graceful and likable anchor throughout as Mina, Sonya D’Andrea is charming as irreverent and man-crazy Lucy. D’Andrea’s Lucy sees the most change over the course of the play, from a flirtatious bachelorette, to Dracula’s mistress, to being on her death-bed, to being a child-hunting Vampire. In each iteration, D’Andrea plays the part with conviction.
Darren Marshal as Dr. Seward also walks the line, admirably, between Lucy’s bumbling suitor and the clinical-but-kindly physician at a mental institution. Bradford Hale, as Seward’s patient Renfield (the fly-eating, Dracula-obsessed lunatic), turns in a disturbingly captivating performance.
Less successful is the performance of Alex Brown, whose Dracula comes across as more lethargic than menacing. Most of the actors opted not to attempt the British accents associated with Bram Stoker‘s original characters. That’s fine, as a bad accent is a distraction. But in lieu of the Transylvanian “I vant to suck your blood” speak, Brown delivers his lines with labored enunciation. As a seducer and a killer, he’s more David Schwimmer than Gary Oldman.
On the other hand, Hamilton Goodman’s turn as Professor Van Helsing is full of energy and passion. Goodman is the one actor who attempts an accent; his is German and largely successful.
The best scenes in Dracula are those that use the Masonic Lodge’s fabulous backdrops. They’re described here, in a June article in Xpress: “There are 48 backdrops, all hand painted by Chicago artists Thomas Gibbs Moses, hanging in the eaves and rafters above the theatre (which haven’t been moved since 1915). The paintings and elaborate six-piece sets were ‘used for Masonic rituals’ by the Scottish Rite, a branch of the masonic order. When walking into the space for today’s announcement, a landscape painting set the scene: Green earth and palm trees run into dark, ominous mountains and the two worlds are separated by a winding river. Yarnall described the backdrop as ‘Eden fading into less-than-Eden.’ These backdrop are visually stunning, and will add to the dimension an quality of the Montford Park Players’ performances.” The backdrops are used to create Dracula’s castle, a cemetery at night, a dungeon and a crypt. The addition of antique furnishings and period costume really add to the creepy dark feel of the production.
There is some material in the show in that may not be appropriate for younger audiences — this story is meant to be creepy and Dauntless is true to that intention. But for fans of period horror stories, especially on Halloween week, this might be the perfect show.
Dracula, adapted by Glenn T. Griffin with additions by Gregory Roberts Gassler. Directed by Heather McEachern. Cast: Meg Hale as Miss Mina Murray-Harker, Darren Marshal as Dr. Arthur Seward, Chris Brunton as Jonathan Harker, Hamilton Goodman as Professor Van Helsing, Bradford Hale as Renfield, Sonya D’Andrea as Miss Lucy Westenra, Alex Brown as Count Dracula, Julia Manning as inn keeper/vixen/maid. Crew: Lights by Caitlin Lane, sound by Artemis Addams, light design by Jason Williams, costume design by Victoria Smith, set design by MPP and Masonic Temple, fly operator is Eric Shehan, props by Amber Shehan.
Shows are on October 29 & 30 at 7:30 p.m. nightly. Advance tickets are $10 and $8 online; $15 & $12 at the door. Info: 254-5146 or email@example.com.