Day three of three plays-posts in a row, and while work is doing its best to wear me down, I remain defiant. Started off with Ottawa Little Theatre’s THE HOLLOW, then some Franco-theatre with ALBERTINE EN CINQ TEMPS. And midway through the week, it was back to Community Theatre, this time at the Gladstone for the latest show from the venerable Phoenix Players, and their first ever two-week run. Always nice to see the smaller players busting out, and the Gladstone seems to be suiting the Players just fine. Their latest was a pretty intriguing break from the average Community fare, Warren Graves’ THE DEATH OF DRACULA, based on the novel by Bram Whats-His-Name.
Directed by Phoenix Artistic Director Jo-Ann McCabe (who helmed the last Phoenix production I caught, last year’s I REMEMBER MAMA), the play tells the familiar Dracula story in truncated form, tweaked and modified by playwrite Graves in a way that…well, that I’m really not a fan of, I have to reluctantly say. I know, I know, I’m all about the positive in this blog…I haven’t forgotten. But after a promising start with fiction’s fav’rit lunatic Renfield (Ron Langton, tossing himself nicely into the role of madman), the play nearly stops itself cold as Professor Van Helsing (Andre Dimetrijevic, a lovely fit for the quirky vampire-hunter) and doctor Seward (a VERY entertaining William Morrison) sit down for about fifteen minutes, politely explaining to us everything that happened in the first, oh, 200 pages or so of the novel. It’s almost deadly, and I really wished Graves had found a better way to convey that volume of information. That being said, kudos to the actors (especially Dimitrijevic, who gets the lion share of the exposition in the production) for keeping it all straight with hardly a misstep.
Things get cooking at last, and ain’t it always the way, when the ladies show up. First is Brigitte Aube Harrison as Mina (Mina Seward, tho, not Murray…for whatever reason, the playwrite has switched Mina’s and Lucy’s surnames…another gripe I have with the text), who radiates the brains and poise of Stoker’s heroine wonderfully as the plot slowly begins to thicken. Shortly after, we meet her ailing pal Lucy (Tina Prud’homme, who vacillates very effectively between retiring maiden and glowering vamp as the play moves forward), suffering from a mysterious ‘disease of the blood’ that no one seems able to explain.
Soon we meet the ladies significant others…Mina’s Beau Jonathan Harker (Jake William Smith) and Lucy’s fella Arthur Holmwood (Aaron Lajeunesse). Both of them are somewhat rankled by the mysterious new heartthrrob in town, Count Dracula (Bill Brown, sporting a swell cape), and soon enough the terrible truth comes out, thank to Van Helsing’s dogged kookiness. I was disappointed that Jake Smith had so little to do, as the script has essentially turned Harker into little more than mild comic relief. But Lajeunesse gets more to sink his teeth into (pun!), and both lads impress with what they have. Bill Brown’s Dracula has some good moments, especially a visit to the Seward home that culminates in a surprisingly steamy bit with Lucy, yoinks! Although he’s really kind of a supporting character in his own play, which I actually get. There were times when the straight approach didn’t go over so well, and you wished they had just gone full on camp with the part (come on, that CAPE..!), but things all moved along to a satisfyingly fun finale. The costumes and set were damned lovely, with the occasional nifty light and sound cue to set the mood…could have used a few more of those, actually. And the cast is definitely worth watching…this is a good ensemble.
All in all, a good, fun night out with the Phoenix Players. And while it didn’t completely rock my world, I feel safe to say it’s at least WAY better than TWILIGHT. The show runs until November 3rd (you can see it on Halloween!! You know you want to…), so lots of chances left to check it out. Peace, love and soul,
The Visitor (and Winston)