Monday, October 29, 2012

Dracula - Oregon Childrens Theatre, Young Professionals Company, Portland, OR

"Children of the Night"

The classic thriller, Dracula, by Bram Stoker and adapted by Christopher P. Nicholas was presented, for one weekend only, to sold-out crowds by Oregon Children’s Theatre’s youth company, Young Professionals. It was directed by James Sharinghousen (recently seen as an actor in Triangle’s Avenue Q).

Although this only played for one weekend, it’s worth noting because it is presented by a company of youth, both in the acting and behind the scenes. These young people are from their school and are a good example of what young people are capable of when trained by a quality school/theatre such as OCT.


They are also presenting, for a second time, A WWII Radio Christmas, December 8th-16th, which sold-out last year (hint-hint). Call 503-228-9571 for tickets or go to their website www.octc.org for more information on classes and shows.


This is, indeed, one of the classic horror stories of all time. Although tales of vampires had been around before this, Dracula firmly cemented them into the minds and hearts of readers/viewers everywhere. And this stripped-down, hour-long model of the story adds enough suspense to make it a worthwhile experience.


The story should be familiar to most. In this version, Mina (Anne Parham) is a guest of Dr. Seward (Hannah Wilson), and her assistant, Snelling (Michael Cline), in his institution. She has a strange malady, which not only physically weakens her but gives her strange hallucinations, as well. Even her fiancĂ©, Jonathan Harker (Martin Tebo) is at wit’s end as to what to do.


Enter Professor Van Helsing (Stephanie Roessler), a highly respected doctor to discover the problem and solution, which has nothing to do with earthly science. She discovers that one of the patients, Renfield (Carter Bryan) has a strange connection to Mina, seeming to sense the evil surrounding her. And, of course, the mysterious Count Dracula (Jeremy Howard), a recent transplant from Eastern Europe, lurks in the background.


As mentioned, this is a stark production and only has one setting (Dr. Seward’s office) with a minimal cast and a short time period to chill the viewer. Therefore, much of the adventuresome story is lost and/or changed to fit these criteria. But that doesn’t diminish the strength of this presentation. It relies more on a story-telling technique to get across its point rather than elaborate pageantry, in which often the tale gets lost, smothered by effects.


The direction, by Mr. Sharinghousen, since he has such a limited environment, tends to accentuate the little things to create tension. The cat-and-mouse circling of the Count and the Professor; the seductive blood connection between Dracula and Mina; the puppet-like gyrations of characters; and the eerie, vacant stares toward the audience at the end, are quite effective measures of suspense.


The entire cast is very capable in their depiction of the characters. And I highly approve of the cross-gender casting in the characters of Van Helsing and Seward. Neither gender (nor culture, nor age) should ever be a factor in not casting the best person for the part. In the final result, Art will prevail.


Mr. Howard, as Dracula, has a difficult task, competing with the likes of able performers such as Jack Palance, Gary Oldman, Frank Langella, Christopher Lee, and, of course, Mr. Lugosi, himself. But his boyish good-looks and underplaying the menace, gives him a boy-next-door persona, which is all the more scary. Dare I say it, you almost like him at times.


Ms. Parham, as Mina, is quite effective in playing the duplicity of her character, traversing the difficult path between good and evil with ease. And, especially prominent, is Mr. Bryan, as Renfield. The Jekyll & Hyde presentation of this role is a delicate balance between madness and sanity and he walks this tightrope with remarkable dexterity. Probably the most complex character in the story and performed very well.


If they revive this for next season, it would be well to remember that his would not be recommend for young children, as the story may be too intense for them and there is some onstage blood spilled toward the end. If you do see a production by this troupe, tell them Dennis sent you.