Chills, kills and thrills abound in the Dayton Playhouse’s impressively conceived production of “Dracula,” adapted by William McNulty and originally dramatized by John L. Balderston and Hamilton Deane from Bram Stoker’s classic novel.
Under the striking, cinematic direction of David Shough, “Dracula,” the classic psychological and physical battle between good and evil exposing intriguing aspects of lunacy, power, sexuality and religion, grips from the start and doesn’t let go. Vividly launched by Chris Newman’s stellar prologue illustrations, Shough’s breezily paced, eerily dark and delightfully amusing presentation– effectively heightened with flashy special effects and Puccini’s marvelously melodramatic “Turandot” as inspired underscore –uniformly attacks with purpose. This show could have imploded with actors wallowing in a spooky sea of overblown hysterics or cheesy horror shtick with the rudimentary goal to “be scary,” but Shough ensures his believably conflicted cast remains committed at every turn, giving McNulty’s fully fleshed adaptation, a clear, succinct and tight examination of Count Dracula’s sinister menace and uncontrollable influence pervading Victorian England, the thoroughly engrossing treatment it deserves.
As the titular vampire, the impeccably creepy Alex Carmichal, an actor with a history of villainous roles, delivers one of his best performances. Uniquely possessing a simultaneously charming and contemptible aura, Carmichal meticulously uncovers the multifaceted malevolence within Dracula’s quest for control. He’s certainly good for a laugh, as any Dracula must, but he can also be remarkably seductive, particularly in the terrifying Act 1 finale he shares opposite Sarah Parsons (solid as Lucy Westphal) in which a matter of life and death culminates in hauntingly alluring surrender.
Additionally, Heather Martin wonderfully taps into her inner Carrie White as Margaret Sullivan, Seward’s assistant possessed by Dracula, and her tender bond with David Hallowren (highly enjoyable as the tough yet amiable inmate attendant Norbert Briggs) is palpable. Matthew Glenn as Jonathan Harker, Carolyn Hoogsteden (what a screamer!) as Mina Grant, Margaret Foley, Cari Meixner and Debra Strauss as Dracula’s sadistic brides, David Stephen Thomas as a Monster and Addison Page Wheeler as the Girl completes the cast, attractively costumed by Barbara Pontecorvo. Shough spearheads the production’s terrific atmospherics as set designer, co-lighting designer (with Anita Bachman) and co-sound designer (with Bob Kovach).
Refreshingly raising the bar for community theater, “Dracula” is a must-see.
“Dracula” continues through Oct. 21 at the Dayton Playhouse, 1301 E. Siebenthaler Ave., Dayton. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Act One: 75 minutes; Act Two: 50 minutes. Tickets are $15-$17. For tickets or more information, call (937) 424-8477 or visit www.daytonplayhouse.org