Alchemist’s “Dracula,” creative theater with bite

Alchemist Theatre's Year of Fear continues as Aaron Kopec has a bloody good time with "Dracula."

By - Mar 2nd, 2013 02:28 pm
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alchemist-dracula-posterBlood, screaming, knives, ropes, stakes and sex. Alchemist Theatre’s Dracula has it all, and it’s awesome.

Kopec adapted the show, part of The Alchemist Theatre’s Year of Fear celebration, from the famous Bram Stoker novel, but added a feminist twist. Van Helsing, for example, is female. That aside, this Dracula is compelling theater — fleet in exposition, fluid in moving from scene to scene, endowed with sharp, witty dialogue and blessed with pointed performances.

You know the story. Jonathon (Randall T. Anderson) kisses his sweet Mina (Anna Figlesthaler) goodbye before heading to Transylvania to close a real estate deal with the notoriously “strange” Count Dracula. Renfield (Harold Loeffler-Bell), an associate at Jonathon’s firm, has already made the trip — and is sent straight to the loony bin upon return. Still, Jonathon dismisses the superstitions surrounding Dracula and brushes aside any misgivings.

Alas, Jonathon is screwed.

That’s clear at the first glimpse of the shaved head, sallow skin and glowing eyes (thank you, contact lenses) of Alchemist’s Dracula, Kurtis Witzlsteiner. The look, combined with Witzlsteiner’s evil smirk, committed voice and practice of standing way too close to everyone made for a formidable and scary vampire.

Poor Jonathon, trapped in Transylvania, falls prey to Dracula’s sexy vampire brides (Sammich Ditloff, Libby Amato, Sarah Dill) while the story moves on. Back in London, Mina spends time with her vivacious and naughty friend, Lucy (Liz Whitford). The women discuss the dark, recurring sexual dream they have in common. Whitford, a perfectly raunchy Lucy, admits to violent sexual fantasies even as she maintains an adorable charm.

Loeffler-Bell, as Renfield, stood out even in this strong cast. In his crazed conversation with Dr. Seward (Sharon Nieman-Koebert), he rambles about his theories on life forces. He fixes on the old rhyme “there was an old lady who swallowed a fly, I guess she’ll die” to make his point over and over. He turns to the audience for a  brilliant aside. Renfield’s thoughts were secondary to the stunning way Loeffler-Bell delivered them. Maybe it had to do with his perfect Jack Sparrow accent, which contrasts with the refined English accents of the rest of the cast, or his subtle way with comedy. All of the above contributed to a great piece of acting.

Loeffler-Bell’s Renfield and Beth Lewinski’s Van Helsing split most of the show’s comedy. Van Helsing recognizes that Dracula has targeted Lucy and Mina, already bitten Mina, and has been visiting them during the night. The tip-off? Lucy’s outrageous wet dreams (sure, of course). Four women (Dr. Seward is in the mix) discussing this state of affairs opens the door to a sliced-artery gush of clever one-liners, with Lewinski leading the way.

Of course, this is Dracula, and Kopec certainly didn’t skimp on thrills. The lighting and sound design create a consistently creepy tone. Witzlsteiner darkened the tale when before things turned too goofy. Kopec has balanced the laughs and horror to make a lively story for fans of the undead.

Dracula runs at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays through March 16 at The Alchemist Theatre in Bay View. Tickets are $17 online or at the door.

Categories: Theater

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