Christopher Aruffo, MFA, MBA, MSc, PhD
As audiences learned with Monroe County Civic Theater's recent staging of "Hadrian the Seventh," there is often a variety of valid reasons why some scripts are rarely staged. Sadly, it was a lesson the theater has not learned for itself.
Bram Stoker rushed a dramatic version of his new novel, "Dracula", onto stages for one reason only: to protect his intellectual property. The script, even partially edited down as it was here, was the biggest challenge this company had to face.
I certainly commend Russell McGee for his continuing vision and his ambition in bringing a new twist on an overly familiar classic to stage, and for his campaign to make better theater with the civic group. But a show lives or dies on the strength of the written word, and this script was not nearly strong enough to engage a modern audience for three hours.
I've seen several interpretations of the Dracula story, but never one quite so devoid of its title antagonist. Roy Sillings, a skilled actor lost under makeup too extreme for such an intimate staging, made few appearances in this production.
He existed mostly in conversation and reference, and when he did appear, he seemed so desperate to make an impression that he overdid it a bit. His first scene, a 25-minute orgy of exposition, was a weak and obvious start to a tale audiences know well.
The gentlemen carried this show. Chris Aruffo dynamically attacked his role of Dr. Van Helsing with gusto, vigor, and enthusiasm. Here, clearly, is a man in command of his craft, and while his performance did leap into melodrama at several points, I appreciated the obvious invitation he extended to the rest of the cast to join him at that level. Patrick Hercamp put a bizarre and refreshing twist on Renfield, one which finally showcased the humanity within the madman; Alex Gulck's Dr. Seward was both compassionate and commanding; and Zach Morgan's Lord Godalming was the very picture of Victorian bravery, honor, and gentlemanly love.
The ladies fared less well, but that is as much a product of the words they were given and the direction as anything else. Only Lauren Pope, as the noble and doomed Mina, surprised the audience with her interpretation of a character long lost to cliche. Her Mina was no willing victim; she gamely fought against her fate, and actively conspired with the heroes.
Despite its flaws of pacing, staging, and content, MCCT, in cooperation with the Bloomington Playwrights Project, presented a skillfully crafted production which simply could not overcome the problems with the script. While the production values were much higher than I've seen from MCCT, the production, as a whole, was a bit bloodless-- in every possible connotation.