Friday, October 8, 2010

Further Afield Theater Reviews -- "Bram Stoker's Dracula" at the Denver Center

"Bram Stoker's Dracula"
Until Oct. 31 at the Stage Theater
Denver Center for The Performing Arts
Tickets start at $18
For more information call 303 893 4100, or log on to

Three stars out of four

For any actor trying to fill the shoes — and the cape — of Count Dracula, the comparisons are inevitable.
Playing one of popular fiction’s best-known baddies automatically opens up the floodgates for association: Was the performance as creepy as Gary Oldman’s? Did the actor pull off the Transyvanian accent as well as Béla Lugosi? Did their sheer presence match Christopher Lee’s?
Considering the decades worth of dramatic precedents, the Denver Center Theatre Company’s production of “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” offers a surprisingly original take on the iconic horror story.

 Indeed, Anthony Marble’s performance in the lead role makes infuses century-old undead character pop with fresh life. Sure, there are some onstage nods to Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 film and a few echoes of Legosi’s definitive 1931 performance.
But by drawing from the epistolary style of Stoker’s 1897 novel, the DCTC’s production carves out a more authentic niche. Like the novel, the onstage tale is told through the journal entries and letters of characters like Jonathan Harker, Abraham Van Helsing and Mina Murray. Seeped in the dialogue and diction of the time, the characters’ words are taken straight from Stoker’s pages. What’s more, the interprestation includes references to Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, the 15th century nobleman who served as the historical foundation for Stoker’s character.
All of these elements help create a strong sense of time, place and authenticity. What’s more, the approach helps the production avoid the feel of a gimmick or a cheap bid to jump on the Twilight/True Blood bandwagon.
No petulant teens or black-clad hearththrobs populate this vampire story. The tale begins with a trip into old school vampire territory — the rugged mountains in the wilds of Transylvania. The action begins when a well-to-do London solicitor named Jonathan Harker (Harry Carnahan) sets out for a castle in the Transylvanian outback. He’s been invited by an eccentric nobleman, a count who’s looking to relocate to England to start his life anew and feel “younger.”
Count Dracula first appears to the audience as a wizened old man, a figure bent with age and racked by years whose longing for youth comes through in every word. Aided by Kevin Copenhaver’s brilliant costume design, Anthony Marble conveys the feel of the part perfectly. His snow-white hair, his balding pate and his elaborate costumery give off the palpable feel of an ancient age and of decades lost.
It’s a look that completely transforms by the time the action shifts to London. Revitalized by the blood of his victims, Dracula begins to stalk new prey in London. He’s particularly interested in those close to Harker, who had made a daring escape from the castle in Transylvania. He stalks Lucy Westernra (Sofia Jean Gomez), the close friend of Harker’s fiance, Mina Murray (Margaret Loesser Robinson). He makes a servant out of R.M. Renfield (Michael McKenzie), a patient at the sanitarioum run by John Seward (Jeremiah Wiggins), a onetime suitor of Westernra.
It’s only after Abraham Van Helsing properly identifies the puncture wounds on Westernra’s neck that the hunt for Dracula begins in earnest. The chase brings the characters to mausoleums at midnight, abandoned estates and back into the Transyvanian wilds.
Driven by a strong ensemble, an innovative dramatic structure and some genuinely spooky special effects, Charles Morey’s dramatic adaption feels more like a paean to Stoker’s original vision, a tribute to the roots of the current fondness for vampires in popular culture.
It’s an ambitious dramatic undertaking, an effort that feels larger than the Denver Center stage at times. The structure of the psychodrama can be overwhelming at the very beginning of the play, and some of the onstage performances pale in comparison to the iconic film portrayals from the past decades.
But director Gavin Cameron-Webb manages to fit the epic scope of Stoker’s text on a single stage. Effects by Don Darnutzer and Craig Breitenbach help convey a genuinely spooky sense of atmosphere, and strong performances by McKenzie, Loesser Robinson and Marble stand out from the rest of the ensemble.

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