Dauntless performs Dracula at the Masonic Lodge

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 info@montfordparkplayers.org.

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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4 thoughts on “Dauntless performs Dracula at the Masonic Lodge

  1. Estella Banks

    Well…this was a kind review. The Masonic building and the antique backdrops are indeed impressive. Too bad the production itself was drab and depressing. Dracula is arguably the most famous and exciting horror story ever written, so you would think it would be hard to screw up. Maybe this group should have made it campy or a parody…or something? I woke up a little bit when Van Helsing came on stage, but the other characters seemed like a high school drama club that got bored doing haunted houses. Sorry guys, you got the ‘creepy’ all right, but not good creepy, just creepy.

  2. Audience Member

    Thank you for clarifying that this is NOT a Montford Park Players production. That fine company has worked hard the past several years to build its reputation for turning out quality shows with much success. It would be a shame for them to back slide by being associated unfairly with a less than stellar production. I look forward to seeing the actual MPP shows at their new winter venue!

  3. sharkbear.org

    So, is it Shakespeare (it is a fitting question given the misleading ties to Montford)? No, it is not. Is it “good theatre”? No, Kushner would indeed not enjoy it.

    Is it fun?. Yes, quite a bit.

    I feel that the theatre medium has quite a bit to learn from the music medium (and this is an entirely separate digression from the above review, its comments, and indeed this comment itself). I was thinking recently that in the long long ago (in tomorrowmorrow land) when leaving Vincent’s Ear from the local show I paid under 10 dollars for that I never thought, “Wow, that was way less satisfying than the arena concert I saw last summer with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra-esque budget”. In face, I almost thought of the two as separate mediums. I do feel, however, we end up trying to judge shows with imports at NCStage on the same tier as ten dollar local shows. Again, not necessarily regarding the above review, but regarding theatre…and it said theatre blog.

    A couple complaints/praises of the show:

    The script is not always good, but that’s not a game killer. In fact, it helps at some points. Is the script to Rocky Horror good? no. Is it fun? Well, maybe use that as a thermometer of your enjoyment. In the viewing process there are some scenes that work well tragically and some that leave you almost expecting Mike Nelson to break in with a wry comment (and I mean that in a good way).

    The cast is having a lot of fun with the material, and there are some very fine performances here (see above).

    My main critiques are of the intermission spacing and the sightlines. The first is because yes, the set changes are a bit long (apparently cut down from the reviewer’s viewing). They only feel insurmountable at the end of act 1 which contains a bit too much of the play’s run time. The play would definitely benefit from moving the intermission to a few scenes earlier in the production.

    Also, not breaking anonymity by saying I sat in the balcony (I totally did), it is abundantly clear that no one ever watched the play from up there during rehearsal. A few of the special effects/stage combat techniques are clearly choreographed without the balcony in mind and sometimes the actors just wander out of view (Just to clarify this is not a critique of the space, but the staging as all times were avoidable. Also, it’s not for very long but still takes place for very short intervals throughout the play). Still, not terrible seats, but if at all possible sit downstairs.

    In short, at a $10 online ticket (at a fundraiser event no less), The play is a great amount of Halloween fun with some strong performances, some great lighting (with old time dimmers no less!), and a shifting tone that aids the play quite well for, to be honest, a holiday that seems to shift its tones from somberness to revelry just as well.

    Oh, and yes. The Masonic Temple auditorium is amazing. You will fall in love with backdrops (strongly complimented by the company’s set) all over again.

  4. Sacred Cow

    Did not see the show, mainly because the poster. I can understand doing promotion on a shoestring budget–but the poster featured not only a collage of pictures of the cast in costume (big, big no no if you want to look remotely professional) but pictures of Alex Brown as Dracula in what are CLEARLY daylight hours. Let that sink in for a second. We know what Dracula looks like. Give me a logo and information and I’ll come. Show me how low your production value is and I’ll stay away.

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