|

Bill Gale Review of Dracula

The world of the un-dead is making its way across southern Rhode Island these dark nights. Bill Gale says that’s a good thing.

Ah, yes, well, you know—‘tis the season. No, not that one. Not the one with the chubby guy in a red suit with a white beard.

No, we speak here with trepidation of the nights of orange and black, of costumes, and tricking and treating and of –drum roll, please– Vlad the Impaler better known as Dracula.

There are two versions of Bram Stoker’s story of malevolence and love on either side of Narragansett Bay. And they could hardly be more different. At the newly re-named Courthouse Center Stage in Kingston they are doing a Dracula that is all melodrama.

But in yet another mansion in Newport, the Island Moving Company is dancing to a Dracula that is both fanciful and sensual. Take your choice. Both productions are worth seeing.

In Kingston, the formerly named Courthouse Center for the Arts presents a production that, at first, seems stolid, a mere re-telling of the old Transylvanian tale in a straightforward, very Victorian manner. Its arch, old fashioned approach makes you yearn for the parody of the 1977 Dracula with Frank Langella on Broadway.

But slowly, deliberately Director Richard Ericson and a good cast mold this fragile piece into something more powerful, more cogent. This Dracula begins to speak of good versus evil, of fear and bravery, at once.

Surely, the moments of a beheading, of a stake being driven into a heart, are difficult to seem real today. But the passion of the Dracula story, its never-dying view that the world contains more than we can know of good and evil, comes across.

Stephan Goldbach provides a silently crazed Dracula. He is someone you can believe as a stricken killer, a man possessed beyond our comprehension. The onetime Trinity Rep actor, Keith Jochim, brings us a Dr.Van Helsing who is both prissy and provocative. There is a appropriately dark and weighty wooden set and music from Bela Bartok that could hardly be more appropriate.

Yes, the Kingston show is a melodrama of melodramas. But the intertwining of evil versus good still can have a powerful hold.

Across the Bay, director Miki Ohlsen of the Island Moving Company has taken a different Dracula trip. A couple of years ago she presented a flamboyant, driving Dracula at Newport’s Belcourt Castle. Now the production has moved to a less well known but just as baroque pile off Bellevue Avenue called Seaview. There, once again, huge high-ceilinged rooms provide a proper setting for Transylvanian transgressions. Island Moving, of course, is a dance company and so this production is far from the play in Kingston. As the audience moves from room to room, reassembling itself a half dozen or so times during the hour and 45 minute show, there’s a feeling of dislocation, of new adventures all the time.

This danced Dracula is a most un-Victorian thing. There’s a terrific score written and conducted by Felix Ventouras which helps turn Dracula into a sensual ever-
moving production.

The story itself wavers far from the Bram Stoker original. A bedroom scene, for instance sees four furious and deadly un-dead women extend downward from the ceiling on white sheets. They attack. The result is sensual and scary.

Seaview, by the way, bills itself as Newport’s “Dark Shadows” mansion. That certainly works for this dancing version of Dracula.

Dracula continues at the Seaview mansion in Newport through Sunday. In Kingston, Dracula runs at the Courthouse Center Stage through October 31. Bill Gale reviews the performing arts for Rhode Island Public Radio.