“We have, all of us, a secret life.” Thunderous and gory and ominous and utterly beautiful and all at once shrouded in darkness and mystery, Dracula explored what the characters did not know about their society, each other, and themselves.
Steeped in blood, smoke, and innuendo, ACT Theatre’s production of Dracula by Steven Dietz twists the quintessential horror classic into something altogether new. In ACT’s modernized iteration of the classic, the story follows Mina, a young woman in love and infatuated with Jonathan Harker, who writes to her from his travels in Transylvania, through her plight to combat the malevolent Dracula as he leaves death and destruction in his wake.
Despite the story’s birth in the nineteenth century, Dracula provides a contemporary punch sailing in on the wings of vivid stage construction. A simple yet elegant aesthetic, overlapping grey marbled background pieces descend like staircases from either side of the stage, forming a “V” shape where the infamous Count stands shrouded in a cloud of smoke. Painted white, the back wall projects the ghostly shadows of the actors. The color scheme—a monochromatic grey and white—is punctuated with the blood red worn by the Count and his brides as the lighting emanates from the floor. Contrasting the simplicity of the aesthetic, the special effects created more depth and added gory interest to the display. A rosary bursts into flame. Objects move around the stage of their own accord. Blood spurts, and smoke clouds; the special effects provide lurid realism.
There is a certain art to transforming classic, even dated art into a new and contemporary performance. The idea that art fades from relevance and becomes less accessible to modern audiences is one that plagues many classic pieces. However, through reimagining the presentation of such pieces, they may regain that crucial relevance. ACT Theatre, in collaboration with playwright Steven Dietz, has succeeded in achieving just that. Dracula, particularly the Count himself, is representative of those in power sucking the life from and manipulating those beneath them; a message that articulates how institutions that perpetuate ideas of status and wealth tend to poison those who are considered to be without has not ceased to be relevant. Dracula merely begged to be reframed. From the fearsome energy and stage presence of each actor, to lighting that changed the stage from the comfort of Lucy’s bedroom to the grotesque starkness of a mental asylum in an instant, the performance was thoughtful, precise, and evocative. Perhaps gore is not for all of us, but for those with any fondness for it or anyone with a particular affinity for the Halloween season, Dracula at ACT is well worth the visit.