“Welcome to my house! Enter freely and of your own free will!”
Dracula, on first meeting Jonathan Harker
Dracula is one of those stories that have been around for nearly a century and still people cannot seem to get enough. He has been idolized as a hero, a savior, a devil, a lunatic and an imposing romantic figure. His presence demands attention. One look is not enough; complete admiration will do. When Bram Stoker wrote his novel in 1897, the book did not fly off the shelves. It received interest from contemporary readers instead of the Victorian age when it came out. Still, there is something extraordinary reading about a man who has lived through every evil thrown to humankind and still be able to survive. His face has become old and withered through time but his mind sharp as if he were in his 20s is a complete conundrum.
The difficult thing is how to make the story fresher, more alive, pun intended, in order to keep the interest afloat. In the movies, the Count has been African American (Blacula, 1972), has become part of a comedy group (Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, 1948) and even a next-door neighbor (Fright Night, 1985) whose assistant leaves the house late at night with a rolled up rug in his arms. In theater, there are a dozen ways of keeping Dracula relevant without looking ridiculous. This Dracula provides a sexier power lacking in other productions. The story remains fully intact. Jonathan Harker (Jordan Wall) goes on a long journey in Transylvania to see a new client, Count Dracula. Another legal practitioner named Renfield, was sent ahead to get legal documents but went missing and Jonathan takes over.
What turns out to be a one-day venture becomes a month long stay. Jonathan writes letters to his beloved fiancée Mina letting her knows why it is taking him so long to return. The Count has kept him prisoner and for company leaves Jonathan along with three bloodthirsty women known as succubae or female demons. At first, Jonathan loves the attention he is receiving until they feed on him like a holiday dinner. He becomes weak and later panicky.
In the meantime, Mina (Rachel Zink) stays with her best girlfriend Lucy and her mother at their estate. Lucy (a very delightful Ariel Hart) has the difficult task of choosing three suitors for a husband. The soon to be Lord Arthur Godalming, (Diego Maureira), Dr. John Seward (Jude Evans) and the Texan cowboy with the piercing eyes Quincy P. Morris (a wonderful performance by Kenneth James). She keeps them wrapped up nice and tight around her finger. However, she does not know a fourth admirer is out to get her. Count Dracula seduces Lucy at night and feeds on her. Dr. Seward tries to help but realizes he needs more of a professional touch and asks his former teacher and vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing (a brilliant job by David Caprita) for help.
All the drama unfolds when the men meet the Count and the succubi who are ready to do battle. Robert Homer Mollohan plays Dracula with a lot of wit and charm and it does not hurt that he is also very attractive. With a package like that, and his power over her, it is easy to believe why Mina would choose him over Jonathan. But, Jonathan does not give up easily and fends for his ladylove until the end. When Mollohan is on stage, he takes control of it. It almost appears as if no one can move unless he gives the word. That’s what happened with Renfield (played absolutely intensely by Kristin Lerner). Casting a woman, instead of the traditional male, was a great idea. By the time, the audience meets her, Renfield is lonely, sad and appealingly delusional, but she is under the Count’s spell. Like Mina, she can’t or won’t resist what her master’ wants. Lerner does an exceptional job playing the vulnerable yet strong-willed woman who refused to be labeled as a victim. She is in her right mind and her mind says repeatedly to do the master’s bidding. Who is going to tell her differently and risk becoming a victim?
The show has everything. It’s edgy. Sexy. Well-thought out. Major shout out to playwright Jayce Johnson who adapted the novel beautifully and to director Sophia Watt who did a most fantastic job on keeping the story fresh and relevant. This is definitely a see it now show.
Dracula ends this weekend playing Friday, October 30th and Saturday, October 31st at 8 p.m. and Sunday, November 1st at 7 p.m. at Theatre 68 at NoHo Arts Center, located at 11136 Magnolia Blvd., in North Hollywood. For ticket information, call (323) 960-5068 or reserve online at wwwtheatre68.com or www.plays411.com/dracula.