“Dracula” delivers modern female roles

Sep 25, 2007 at 6:06 pm

Dracula: Photo by Harlan Taylor  Misha Kuznetsov (Dracula), Jonathan Kells Phillips (Dr. Seward) and William McNulty (Van Helsing) in ATL’s “Dracula.”
Dracula: Photo by Harlan Taylor Misha Kuznetsov (Dracula), Jonathan Kells Phillips (Dr. Seward) and William McNulty (Van Helsing) in ATL’s “Dracula.”
Starring Marc Bovino, Elizabeth Gilbert, Nathan Gregory, Sophie C. Hill, Misha Kuznetsov, David Ian Lee, William McNulty, Genisis Oliver, Jonathan Kells Phillips, Sarah Sexton, Sandra Struthers and Dara Tiller. Directed and adapted by William McNulty from the original drama by Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston. Presented by Actors Theatre of Louisville. Continues through Oct. 31 at ATL, 316 W. Main St. For tickets, call 584-1205 or visit www.actorstheatre.org.

Actors Theater of Louisville sets the mood for the Halloween season with its 13th anniversary staging of the new adaptation of “Dracula” by William McNulty, who directs this play and portrays Van Helsing.
Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula” had much to say about Victorian women’s roles; women were either “good” or “bad.” In the novel, the characters Mina and Lucy are slotted into each role respectively.

Making Lucy (Sandra Struthers) the heroine here illustrates McNulty’s wise move in modernizing the main female role. Newcomer Struthers performs Lucy’s metamorphoses flawlessly as, first, the damsel in distress; later, the hormonal quasi-vampire; and, finally, the emulation of the 21st century woman who takes charge of her own fate by picking up a stake and hammer.

Ms. Sullivan (Sarah Sexton) as the employee of Dr. Seward (Jonathan Kells Phillips) also models behavior that is ahead of her time. After she proclaims she is not a mere servant but a doctor’s assistant, Dracula wills her to be his spy by using his supernatural power on her instead of seduction.

The play starts erratically, with too much exposition — a lone gramophone plays itself, a fantastic set illusion but detrimental to the audience’s attention span. The tactic Count Dracula (Misha Kuznetsov) uses to prey on his victims is disconcerting — the bloodsucking seems more psychotic than erotic in his first appearance, and it strikes a discordant note given the later portrayal of the Count as a charismatic people person.

Kuznetsov, as the Count, easily slips into his role, showing facets of cultured arrogance and the hunger for power. Yet the plotline asserts that he is actually Vlad Dracula (Vlad III the Impaler); that contradicts the novel, which casts Dracula as one of Vlad’s decedents.

Marc Bovino is outstanding as the insane inmate and comic-relief-character extraordinaire Renfield. This intended minor character in the novel almost overshadows Dracula here as the drama begins and ends with Renfield’s appearance, and Renfield plays a crucial role in discovering Dracula’s true identity.

The production is strewn with acrobatic stunts and stage magic that create a haunted house ambience and disguise this theater in the round. McNulty raises the play to new heights by taking advantage of the main stage’s multifaceted entrances, creatively choreographing scenes on stage platforms that ascend and descend and using all free space in the theater.

Cobwebbed branches embellished throughout the theater enhance the spooky mood while the surround sound of thunderous storms, power outages and reverberating pistol shots add to the enthrallment.