By Russ Tarby
A completely capable cast and crew has combined to create a riveting rendition of Bram Stoker’s 120-year-old vampire tale “Dracula,” now playing through Nov. 3, at the First Presbyterian Education Center, in Baldwinsville.
The embodiments of good and evil — Professor Van Helsing and Count Dracula — are ably portrayed by two local theater veterans, Simon Moody and Trevor Hill, respectively. With Hill and Moody leading the way, the supporting cast rallies around with convincing performances, especially Dan Rowlands as the madman, Renfield, and the two winsome women who portray Dracula’s victims.
Produced by Colin Keating and directed by Korrie Taylor for the Baldwinsville Theatre Guild, this version of Stoker’s Gothic story is a 1996 adaptation by Steven Dietz with several notable departures from the familiar plot.
In Dietz’ script, Renfield serves as a narrator, delivering a prologue and epilogue. Dracula’s voyage from Transylvania to London is described, rather than staged. Harker’s initial trip to Carpathia is presented as a flashback, and there are just two vampire brides inhabiting Dracula’s castle.
The restructuring allows for romance between Dr. Seward and Lucy, played by Michael Richard King and Alyssa Ashley Otoski Keim. King brings a seriousness to Seward that fittingly contrasts with Keim’s flighty, flirty Lucy, the first of our heroines to be seduced by the undead Eastern-European count.
Keim’s Lucy wavers between giddiness and gravitas, although it’s hard to take her seriously in an awkwardly fitting red wig with endlessly uncontrollable curls. Regardless, Keim should win an award for best “scream queen” of 2018. Let’s hope her vocal cords can hold out through Nov. 3!
Lucy’s best friend is Mina Murray, played here by the graceful Julia Jaremko, whose credits include acting roles off-off-Broadway in New York City. Her experience pays off as she imbues Mina with a strong self-confidence, strong enough to overturn the vampire’s awful allure.
Corey Hopkins plays Jonathan Harker, Mina’s fiancé, and gives a realistic portrayal of a man undergoing post-traumatic stress disorder after his unnerving business with Dracula. Hopkins, whose experience lies mainly in musicals, makes a creditable transformation as Harker changes from a hollow, haunted man into a solid sender who takes control.
While the set design by Josh Taylor remains minimal — three tiers topped by Dracula’s castle replete with medieval armor — the costuming is colossal. Costumers Heather Jensen and Kate Kisselstein worked along with actor and props-collector Simon Moody to dress the cast in their Victorian best.
Among the eye-catching outfits are Lucy and Mina’s gowns, nightgowns, velvet robes and silk chokers, Dracula’s ancient red-and-white embroidered robe with matching mitre and Van Helsing’s fur-collared coat and Tyrolean top hat. Harker’s frock coat with paisley cravat and Renfield’s striped body suit also complement their characters. But best of all is Mina’s elegant purple ensemble, the one she wears on her mission of mercy.
Rounding out the cast are Kathy Egloff as a maid, Greg Holtham as the sanitarium attendant and Morgan Thomas and Lauren Puente as Dracula’s vixens, two depraved temptresses.
Rowlands’ Renfield is a riot! The actor takes Dracula’s disciple from low to high, from a deep-voiced Oxford attitude to a high-pitched cry for help, from a wheezing voice to a full-bodied screech, from basso profundo to falsetto, sometimes all in one scene. This Renfield cleverly inspires both horror and humor.
Although Dracula is the titular role, Dietz wrote far fewer lines for him than previous adaptors. No matter, actor Trevor Hill has what it takes to play a bad guy, just as he did as Iago in “Othello.” Here he makes his presence felt with his booming baritone, his aristocratic mustache and his powerful body posture. Hill’s Dracula is a character you will not soon forget.
“Dracula” continues at the First Presbyterian Education Center, 64 Oswego St., at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Oct. 25, 26 and 27, and 3 p.m. Sunday; and at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 2 and 3. Tickets cost $22, and $18 for students and seniors; baldwinsvilletheatreguild.org; (315) 877-8465.