DRACULA: A GOTHIC MYSTERY (Mechanical Theater): Magnificently mesmerizing at Laurel Hill Cemetery

draculamechanicalThere is a fitting chill in the air, under the stars at the imposing, white columned Receiving Vault in the southern part of historical Laurel Hill Cemetery, as the stage is set for a blood-tingling encounter with the infamous Count Dracula (Connor Behm), in all his sanguine splendor.  Bram Stoker’s classic macabre tale finds new life among the grave markers through a spirited cast and crew, and is spiked with added mystery as adapted and directed by The Mechanical Theater’s artistic director, Loretta Vasile.

Back in Victorian era England,1897, Mina Murray (Neena Boyle), and her long time friend, Dr. Jack Seward (Gil Johnson) await the return of Mina’s fiancée, Jonathan Harker (Anthony Crosby), who has disappeared while on business in Transylvania. Mina senses that something is amiss, but can’t quite fathom what it might be until things begin to go terribly awry in strange beleaguering ways. It is then, when human souls are at stake, that she must reach deep within herself to tap a well of supreme strength in order protect her loved ones from falling prey to the seductively pernicious evil about to envelope them.

This superbly staged drama proceeds with a captivatingly charming old time cadence, with characters appareled in splendid period costumes, having tea and playing chess games, but as tensions begin to build and gather, the pace intensifies, helped along by superb sounds effects (wind, howling wolves, haunting music and more) and edgy lighting that spills eerily across the stark stony stage, creating dark shadows.  Deliberate, detailed blocking and movement are precisely, performed, like dance steps, elucidating intent and emotion. Scene changes and fight sequences are also well choreographed  With a couple of totems from Transylvania, a few well placed props, and a minimal set the focus is granted to the telling of underlying duel between good and evil within every body

Neena Boyle plays Mina to perfection as a modern Victorian woman, with wit, charm, intelligence and style, which contrasts beautifully against Colleen Marker’s excellent lilting young Lucy Westenra. Marker plays other characters as remarkably well, donning outfits and accents with ease and flair. But when these two ladies have their inner demons unleashed, look out!

These two female characters are well drawn by playwright Loretta Vasile, and embody the tension between the idea of ideal woman of late 19th century, who was expected to be less educated, and more submissive, as opposed to the educated ‘new’ woman of those times, who was generally perceived as mannish.

Connor Behm’s vampiric demeanor appears super-natural as he seemingly glides throughout the sepulchral glade in a flowing black cape, pursuing his lust for blood and power, while his rendering of mad Renfield, hunched eater of flies, is equally convincing.  

Jack Seward, physician to Renfield and other asylum patients, including his love interest Lucy, is deftly given a good range of expression by Gil Johnson, and Anthony Crosby’s Harker is pure and succinct.  

Joshua Tewell imbues the vampire hunter Van Helsing with distinction, determination, and a believable Dutch accent. Indeed, all of the various accents and dialog are distinguishable and dead on.

The Mechanical Theater has succeeded in reviving Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and continues to consistently create new, enlightening paths for audiences to pleasurably revisit the historical past.

Enjoy this Gothic favorite with complimentary spicey spiked cider, an assortment of wine or beer, cookies and other spooky goodies. Don’t be (too) afraid…

[The Mechanical Theater at Laurel Hill Cemetery, 3822 Ridge Avenue] October 26-28, 2017; themechanicaltheater.weebly.com


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About the author

Lisa Panzer

Lisa Panzer has worked for many years in theater not only as an actor, but as a director, dramaturg, technical director, lighting designer, stage crew, and roustabout. A few of her favorite past theatrical roles include: Liz Imbrie in Philadelphia Story, Maria in Lend Me a Tenor, Mrs. Tarpey in Spreading the News, Mollie Ralston in Mousetrap, Trinculo in The Tempest, Bernice Roth in Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 and Felicia Dantine in I Hate Hamlet. In addition to theatrical endeavors, Mz. Panzer has also worked as a background performer in television’s Cold Case, Invincible, The Happening, several television commercials, and has played various roles in independent films including Project 21 productions and other commercial acting venues. (See http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3355274/ for additonal information).