Review by Paul Oswell
It was a dark and stormy night, though other cocktails were also available at the bar. We’d been summoned to a strange venue by an eccentric host. The weather was, as it always is these days, unseasonably clement, and so I’d forgone my regular crucifix-emblazoned smoking jacket with garlic clove and wooden stake accessories. I brought with me, as per the invitation, a folding chair and a simple, everyday blood sample in an ornate drinking vessel. Yes, I thought that strange as well - bringing your own chair to a theatrical performance! (I'm just goofing about the blood sample)
Welcome, then, to the NOLA Project’s seasonally-astute production of Dracula, a comically romantic retelling of the classic Gothic vampire myth. The venue is a warehouse on the Lafitte Greenway, an industrially-dreary but atmospheric backdrop.
There’s little in the way of set dressing, deft and daft sound design by Khiry Armstead, Joan Long’s subtly effective lighting and a cast of eight actors taking on dozens of roles. Props are mainly limited to costumes (notably excellent work by Bridget Ann Boyle and Grace Smith), and a few boxes on wheels. In terms of challenges, it’s something of a high-wire act to turn this into a triumphantly entertaining two hours, but as you’ll see, The Nola Project vamp their way to success with real aplomb.
Jonathan Harker (played with wide-eyed befuddlement by Keith Claverie), a young English lawyer, travels to Castle Dracula in Transylvania to assist a reclusive Count with a real estate transaction. He orates gag-heavy letters to his fiancée, Mina Murray (a delightfully petulant Alexandria Miles) as the story unfolds.
There’s an unsettling carriage ride, Joe Signorelli and Natalie Boyd note-perfect as a knife-sharpening psychopath and his mother, the arrival at the castle (Signorelli and the excellent Wayland Cooper as overly-sensual acolytes), and an introduction to Count Dracula. Benjamin Dougherty sinks his teeth into the titular role, switching nimbly between vampiric menace and farcially flummoxed frustration.
Thanks to a script that's tighter than a pinching pair of pumpkin-print panties, the textual, visual and even aural gags come at you from the start like bats from the rowdiest belfry in town. There are post-modern, Pthyonesque set pieces, fanciful physical flourishes and let me ask you this - when’s the last time that you laughed at a recurring sound effect? I’m not sure that I ever have, but it (you won’t miss it, believe me) landed every single time.
The vicissitudes of the plot have the Count eventually traveling to London to pursue Mina, jockeying for position among a rogue’s gallery of suitors. The wonderfully versatile Signorelli is a clueless toff, Natalie Boyd is riotously great as a dope fiend in the asylum business, and Cooper fully commits to a brilliantly incongruous, rootin’ tootin’ cowboy. All of them are hilarious, and change costumes at impressively breakneck speeds.
Meghan Whittle nails Lucy, Mina’s hedonistic best friend, and has the crowd howling as Renfield in a scene parodying The Silence of the Lambs. Alex Martinez Wallace positively revels in his roles as Mina’s mother and the vampire hunter Van Helsing, approaching both with a joyous oozing of camp swagger. Dougherty and Miles both expertly distill comedy from the emotional heart of the novel, and Claverie’s coterie of brash supporting characters feels like an extra level of comic relief, even within a relentlessly funny play.
Writer Pete McElligott has penned a wonderful silly script, tonally edging toward Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein. Directors Khiry Armstead and Leslie Claverie allow for just the right levels of fourth wall breaking, and conduct things at a satisfying, comically-intensifying pace. Just in case it’s not clear, I loved this play like Dracula loves enticingly-exposed necks.
I can’t believe it’s much fun living as a vampire. You’d have to forgo any reflective surfaces for one, and I really couldn’t see myself living in a house without mirrors. I SAID I REALLY COULDN’T SEE MYSELF…fine, suit yourself. Catch this production before the sun comes up on it permanently - like me, you’ll be truly fangful (sorry, we had to get one in) for the memories.
Dracula plays at The Greenway Station through Oct 15th. Tickets available via this link.
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