Since Bram Stoker’s 1897 “Dracula,” there have been numerous film and theatrical adaptations, the more recent relying increasingly on sex, gore and psychological aberrations. Ira David Wood III’s script and staging at Theatre in the Park is intentionally old-fashioned in its funhouse scares and conventional characterizations. It breaks no new ground but offers a comfortably familiar retelling.
The play is set in England and begins with the funeral of Mina’s friend Lucy. Her death from a mysterious illness prompts Mina’s father, Dr. Seward, to call in his learned friend, Dr. VanHelsing, who quickly recognizes a vampire’s work.
When VanHelsing learns Count Dracula has recently come to stay in the area, VanHelsing realizes Dracula is the perpetrator and vows to eradicate him. When Dracula discovers VanHelsing’s plans, the two enter into a deadly battle that culminates in the count’s nearby home.
Wood directs a committed cast that gamely takes on the intense, melodramatic dialog and action. John Honeycutt’s Seward projects fatherly concern and scientific skepticism; James Miller gives Jonathan Harker, Mina’s fiancé, appropriate outrage and hunger for revenge; and Edward Freeman capably inhabits Renfield, Seward’s mental patient, who alternates between vehement lunacy and cringing fear.
Real-life husband and wife, Danny and Kathy Norris, play Mr. and Mrs. Wells, the Seward’s domestic help, with suitable “I told you so” warnings, while Caroline Millington’s headstrong but vulnerable Mina and Kelly McConkey’s newly-undead Lucy add to the foreboding.
Ira David Wood IV’s turn as Dracula has exotic flair and suave menace, convincingly evil when employing Dracula’s dark powers. But the show belongs most to D. Anthony Pender, whose VanHelsing commands attention, world-weary but fiercely determined, shrewdly cautious but zealously undaunted.
Stephen J. Larson’s massive unit set gets believably reworked from a burial crypt to Seward’s study and then to Dracula’s underground lair. Larson’s spooky lighting and a number of special effects (objects bursting into flame, coffins opening by themselves) increase the haunting atmosphere.
Ira David Wood III’s script is almost too compact, the whole evening lasting barely two hours, including two intermissions (necessitated by scene changes). There’s little character development, with the first act slowed by overly detailed exposition. Act two has plenty of action and great effects but also induces unexpected laughter from its “Young Frankenstein”-style heightened delivery, breaking the darkly gothic mood. The 10-minute third act rushes the climatic confrontation.
None of this seemed to faze Friday’s audience, which embraced the production with satisfied enthusiasm. The production is not deep or innovative, but it does provide some fun frights and impressive visuals.
Where: Theatre in the Park, 107 Pullen Road, Raleigh
When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 17-19 and 25-26; 3 p.m. Sept. 20 and 27
Tickets: $22 (seniors, students, military $16)
Info: 919-831-6058 or theatreinthepark.com