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A Review of Dracula at the Staircase Cafe Theatre


by Stephen Dietz
Based on the novel by Bram Stoker

Directed by Matthew  Moore and Amanda N. Nesbitt

A Review of the performance October 14, 2011 at Staircase Café Theatre

By Tom Mackan

A Bloody Good Show

Question not what forces came together to inspire this production of Stephen Dietz’s version of the tale of the vampire of Transylvania; it’s here and that’s it, up and running at The Staircase Café Theatre on Dundurn Street.  The 1977 Tony Award winning revival of the 1924 adaptation, with a definitive performance by Frank Langella,   has stronger credentials, is linear and sequential and lends itself to romance and humour. Dietz creates an episodic, fragmentary telling heavily depending on flashbacks and multiple scenes, and takes itself very seriously. So? Well, Directors Matthew Moore and Amanda N. Nesbitt have engaged Dietz’s very demanding structure and themes with courage and bravery, and where they haven’t overcome, they’ve left enough bodies and blood around to keep us wide awake and hugely entertained.

Much credit goes to a cast of young and vigorous actors whose median age is well under thirty. Moore and Nesbitt obviously have them wholly on side, convincing them of what worthwhile value the work has as dramatic literature, inspiring them to give tirelessly, and believe me, they worked with lively spirit and intelligence for the little more than two hours it took to tell the tale, expose its dark heart, and reveal its cautionary message.  Say what one likes about the play; one has to be delighted with the performances.

In the focal role of the scholarly expert, Van Helsing, A.J. Haygarth teeters delightfully on the brink of parody.  I’ve observed this actor with interest for a while playing with the stops. Haygarth understands his craft like few performers of his age and can skate close to the edge then pull it up smartly with amazing self-confidence. Using a convincing Germanic delivery, he achieves wisdom and experience with poise and elegance. Peter Anderson, ever gaining as a performer, finds a rich vein of melodrama in his Dracula, Transylvanian to the core, and he uses it to chilling effect. Adam Kuzick, vocally and visually powerful as the mad Renfield, takes the bait of excess readily and expertly keeps it within the framework of the character’s mercurial demands. For me, these three performances plug into and give the energy to the play. In steadier pace Farhang Ghajar, darkly handsome, is immensely effectual as the troubled Seward. James Thomas commands the unfortunate character of Jonathan Harker with his expressive eyes and strong stage presence, and as his betrothed Mina, Crystal Jonasson measures her widely ranging emotions in an admirably accomplished delivery. Alessandra Gage has the goods to deliver a superbly tragic Lucy, a role requiring considerable physical and psychological resources. Damion LeClair and Steff Bishop-Lampman waste not a scintilla of their stage time, all actor all the time, and similarly Matthew Bandura makes a small role work for the whole, a solid team player.  Finally, three sumptuous and sinuous portrayals of the “vixens”, a trio of luscious vampires played with frightening reality by Lauren Bogle, Kristi Boulton, and Laura Ellis deserved their hot ovation in their curtain call.

From my window on it, I wondered if Dietz’s work would look and play better in more minimalist concept. To me, much of the detail provided in props and furnishings became clutter, got in the way. Actors of this caliber know how to make do, to improvise. One of the best scenes came near the end. A central device as a crypt surrounded by good actors in their light, minimal props, clever staging. Nice.

BBF’s Dracula is a team effort. Cast, crew, even front-of-house, work together to make this choice of play work, especially on a spooky, windy October night under a full moon.