WILLIAMSTOWN -- When one thinks of Dracula, fangs, blood and haunting settings often come to mind. And if you are a fan of the dastardly caped crusader, the Williamstown Theatre Festival's Free Theatre production of "Dracula, or The Un-Dead" is sure to please - not just you, but the entire family.
Decidedly less focused on the supernatural elements found throughout Bram Stoker's 1897 work, Director Jordan Fein and long-time Festival stalwart Steve Lawson explore the humanity of the characters in ways that may have been touched on before, but never fully fleshed out.
If you are familiar with Stoker's original story, he lays out the book as a series of diary entries and letters passed between the various characters over the course of events. Fein and cast did an excellent job of keeping to that format in an undistracting manner. The device used by Lawson (and the cast, for that matter) to convey the reading of the letters and entries was seamless, and created an effective illusion.
Mina Murray, portrayed with a serious and firm authority by Morgan Everitt, certainly did carry the weight of the first act on her shoulders. Whether she was on stage or furiously typing away in her "office" (set just off center stage), Everitt, while not having every line, conveyed her feelings and moods regarding all that was happening to her betrothed Jonathan Harker (Jonathan Bock) as he encounters the titular Count (Noah Averbach-Katz) on Dracula's home turf.
Bock, for his part, played Harker with the perfect amount of properness and fright, as he describes Dracula scaling walls, disappearing into a mist and fending off the seductive trio of Dracula's brides, eager to make him dinner.
Dracula (Averbach-Katz) himself displayed a joyousness in the evil he was creating, and commanded the stage with authority upon every appearance. His creepy grimace, and thick accent, conveyed the un-dead Count's foreigness - to not just Victorian England, but also life.
While Everitt and Elsa Carette (playing the independent and head-strong Lucy Westenra) brought a certain modern, liberated female point of view to their respective characters, Averbach-Katz was masterful in reducing that spark of modernity, and bringing them under his wing.
Carette, infusing Lucy with a modern appeal, was exuberant and vivacious in her quest to decide which suitor would fit her best.
Of Lucy's three suitors, my favorite was (of course) Texan Quincy Morris, played with a perfect rough-and-tumble-western attitude by Max Sheldon, bringing a tear to my eye with his ultimate sacrifice.
John Kroft's Lord Arthur Holmwood agonized over the chore of dispatching his beloved with a stake to the heart, Kroft bringing a dutiful sense of nobility to the ugly task.
Dr. John Seward, played with compassion and sensitivity by Nicholas DeMarco, broached both the world of the sane and seemingly insane with expertise. Seward's care of the ever increasing insanity crazy (or is he?) Renfield, played by Erik Olsen, slowly turns him from that of logical doctor to believer of the unbelievable.
Olsen's ever-rising level of intensity was done with perfection, as he slowly escalated from bugs to birds to a small, soft kitten. Done with just enough humor to keep it from being too frighteningly gory, he was never the less mad as a hatter.
The supporting ensemble was used magnificently. The choice to have them act in the manner of a Greek Chorus, elevated the scenery and main performers with every beat of it's heart, which, once you realize it is a beating heart, only heightens the dark undercurrents running throughout the show.
Andrew R. Butler (doing double duty as Professor van Helsing and the composer) with his wild red mane conveyed almost a mad-doctoresque frenzy to his performance, starting the show as a character that could be crazy, with his beliefs in the un-dead and supernatural, but ending as the sanest of all characters, simply because he knew what evil the Count was capable of.
As the composer, his score was subtle, yet conveyed the perfect aesthetic, creepy enough to convey a sense of dread in the sunlight of the first act, but not overdone once the sun set on act two. And Butler's employment of a lone soprano, added a chilling effect, which raised the hair on the back of the neck, whenever heard.
Scenic Designer Libby Stadstad built the perfect crumbling castle, greatly conveying the ancientness of the Count and his surroundings, while Alejandro Fajardo's lighting design took the set into a separate dimension once the sun went down.
Costume designer Nicole Slaven brought the Victorian period of the English characters and the peasantry of the Romanian scenes to life - or death in the case of Dracula and his brides.
The entire cast and crew should be commended for bringing such a true vision of the seminal Stoker work to the stage, without the gimmicks and gore used in most other mediums.
Intense enough for the adults, and infused with enough levity for the younger crowd to enjoy, "Dracula, or the Un-Dead" will certainly have you looking over you shoulder on the long, dark walk across Poker Flats Field to the car. And without giving too much away, the end will leave you thirsting for more.
"Dracula, or the Un-Dead" wraps up on Poker Flats Field this weekend, July 16 to 19, at 7:30 p.m. Attend, if you dare!