Hattiloo Theatre, in aiming to establish a diverse and lively performing arts presence in the city, has made some bold moves in programming. The results have been mixed but the enterprise has heart and lots of potential.
Unfortunately, Hattiloo 's current production of "Dracula" seems to drive a stake into the heart of that effort. The woefully uneven endeavor casts no shadow and will drive you bats.
The core problem is Steven Dietz's turgid and lurching adaptation that reshuffles the storyline, leaving a pale imitation of the Bram Stoker story. There's no eerie castle, too little of Dracula and too much of the vampire busters. But oh, there's so much less than what's in the script.
The performances are all over the place, and not in an effort to be campy. The wit -- it's supposed to be there -- has been sucked out. If you expected to be squirming over the blood-curdling terror or the evil count's dangerous eroticism, you'll instead be fidgeting over the heavy-handed hammery.
In last Saturday's performance Tony Anderson's Van Helsing and Brandon Lawrence's Dr. Seward provided the least entertainment and the most noise for actors so wooden. These characters are men of science but THEY SPENT MOST OF THE TIME SHOUTING AT EACH OTHER ABOUT WHAT TO DO NEXT TO SAVE POOR LUCY UNTIL AFTER SHE DIED A COUPLE OF TIMES AND THEN VAN HELSING AND MATTHEW SCHMIDT'S HARKER YELLED AT EACH OTHER A WHILE TRYING TO REMEMBER THEIR LINES AND FIGURE OUT WHAT TO DO TO SAVE POOR MINA, AND THEN WHEN YOU FIGURED THE SCREAMING MIGHT BE OVER, EVERYBODY ENCOUNTERED LANDRY KAMDEM KAMDEM'S DRACULA , WHERE THE BLOVIATING GOT LOUD ENOUGH TO REACH ALL THE WAY TO TRANSYLVANIA AND WAKE THE UNDEAD.
Why not just act instead of holler?
Let us not spend all our time throwing garlic, however. Lisa Sanchez-Sullivan is a standout as Lucy, vibrant and nuanced. AJ Tucker is a young actor with a lot of promise. His Renfield is slightly overcooked but he has a riveting presence that was fun to experience. Cherina Rowand's Mina is solid enough to keep the action from falling apart at the end.
The use of three actresses to variously play the mist, ghostly presences, vampires and other utility functions was fairly well done, if too much upstage. The set was spare, dominated by a bed and enormous windows that were slightly off-balance but mostly worked in a kind of unsettling way. Lizzie Organ's lighting was effective and scary when it needed to be.
So when the sun finally rises and Dracula is buried forever, we'd like to see Hattiloo take a fresh breath and regain its mission for excellence and relevance.
The Commercial Appeal, October 26, 2007