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Performing Arts

There will be blood

OU’s University Theatre sinks its teeth into ‘Dracula.’ Mwah-ha-ha.

Eric Webb September 28th, 2011

8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday
Rupel J. Jones Theatre
563 Elm, Norman

The University of Oklahoma’s University Theatre opens its season with “Dracula,” a visually stunning and well-acted production of Bram Stoker’s classic novel. The one thing holding the production back is William McNulty’s adaptation, designed to bring a more contemporary horror film sensibility to bare. 

In this telling, the play opens with the arrival of Dr. Van Helsing at the estate of his friend, Dr. Seward, who’s beloved Mina has recently died of an unknown illness. McNulty has swapped the character names of Mina and Lucy from the novel, so here, it’s Mina who dies first and Lucy who grows ill and becomes the target of seductive intrusions by the mysterious Count Dracula, who has conveniently set up shop in nearby Carfax Abbey.

Lucy’s fiancé, Jonathan Harker, turns up after having been missing for some time. Together with Van Helsing and Seward, Harker endeavors to uncover the root of Lucy’s illness and how the count might be involved.

As one of the most recognized characters in film and literature, playing the role of Dracula comes with a lot of pre-conceived notions an actor has to embrace and overcome to deliver a unique performance. And that’s just what Brad Brockman does. Sporting just enough of Drac’s Slavic accent, he is imposing, confident, powerful and brimming with sensuality and menace.

They succeed at re-creating a sexy horror film as live theater.

The always-excellent Madison Niederhauser does strong work in a more understated performance as Van Helsing, convincingly inhabiting the physicality of a man decades older. Niederhauser is particularly great when going up against Dracula in Act 2, armed only with Scripture and a cross.

Like most of the women in the cast, Stella Highfill gets to shine as Lucy when under Dracula’s influence. Never is this more true than when he convinces her to drink his blood. In another memorable scene, Highfill channels a bit of “Ghostbusters”’ Zuul as the possessed Lucy attempts to seduce Harker, played with earnest bewilderment by Tyler Brodess.

Kevin Percival’s performance as Dracula’s tormented servant Renfield is the standout. As mesmerizing as a vampire, he holds your attention with a virtuoso display, striking a perfect tragicomic tone that can have you laughing at him one moment, fearing him the next, and even feeling pity for him in another. Bursting at the seams with energy, his vocal delivery and physical embodiment of the character are borne of total commitment.

Despite some of McNulty’s uneven storytelling, director Tom Huston Orr succeeds at re-creating a sexy horror film as live theater with the help of fun performances, an amazing set designed by Hana Goff, beautiful costumes courtesy of Kasey Allee-Foreman, and great effects that draw more than a little inspiration from Francis Ford Coppola’s similarly flawed but brilliant 1992 film.

Photo by Wendy Mutz

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