Sunday, November 2, 2014

Bram Stoker's "Dracula" Now Showing At The James F. Dean Theater In Summerville--Take A Bite Out Of Your Schedule

Outside the James F. Dean Theatre, the dark of the night had hours ago blanketed Hutchinson Square and Main Street. Most of the shops and stores locked down for the night. Across the street among the long shadows under the tall, moss covered oak trees, a cold rain coated the silent silhouettes of the numerous scarecrows and displays. It was the perfect setting for a Gothic horror story. Inside, a boisterous, near full house of blood-thirsty celebrants eagerly awaited 11:30 pm and the dimming of the lights--the final prompt Dark Star of the Night had arrived. It was opening night for "Dracula."

Jeff Messer and Andrew Gall's adaptation of Bram Stoker's masterful novel whisks you away on a geographical merry-go-round to Transylvania on the edge of the Carpathian Mountains to the shores of Victorian Whitby in England with stops in-between and back. It all translates into a set of constantly changing scenes throughout the play and a huge challenge for its director and company to improvise a seamless flow of events in a limited space. For JC Conway and Chris Skipper, the limited space was the stage of the James F. Dean Theatre.

I can convincingly state overall(despite some slower moving elements)the challenge was adequately executed on opening night with the assistance of stage manager, Nicole Wallace, and crew. The table that doubled for a ship's wheel and Dr. Seward's desk at the asylum and the five different entrance and exit points that gave Dracula mobility were a clever use of area and props, including the wooden crate center stage used for Dracula's coffin(a touch more detail in this prop would have elevated its realism).

The numerous rotating light cues will help you follow the scene changes as well as set the mood. The incorporation of the two cello players(Abby Maynard and Chris Anderson) located on each side of the stage added a sorrowful, soulful ambiance to the theaters atmosphere during transitions. The prerecorded dialogue was somewhat muffled at times, so you will need to pay attention more intently during those moments.

For a play of this nature to be successfully portrayed with a setting unfolding in the late 1800's and characters physically changing in appearance, realistic costumes and artful make-up are vital. Costume designer and whig maker, Diana Reeves and Mary Miller, did a superb job with the nearly 200 different pieces worn by the 25 cast members while Hana Ryll, Jean Gaston, and Eddie Hall provided the special effects make-up notably worn by Andrew Turnball as Renfield and Kate Berry, Megan Fife, and Michelle Smith as the seductive three brides of Dracula.

A well deserved applause goes out to the entire cast for making it all work with notable performances by Lindsey Marie as vivacious, young Lucy Westenra; Dracula's first love interest in England, Julie Hammond as the more reserved Mina Murray; engaged to Jonathan Harker and Dracula's second seduction, Zach Smith as the journal writing, often traumatized Jonathan Harker, Chris Miller as the eloquent and ambitious asylum administrator Dr. Seward, and Ian Bonner as the alluring, blood-thirsty and love-starved Dracula. Ion's standout moment was when he slowly rose from his lifeless slumber in the climactic encounter with Dr. Van Helsing(Fred Hutter) and company. Edwin Hall as Authur Holmwood owned the funniest moment with his improv during a costume mishap.

An outstanding performance was achieved by Andrew Turnbull, who was insanely masterful in his picture perfect portrayal of the carnivorous mad man, Renfield--by far the most complicated character in the play. An inmate at the lunatic asylum overseen by Dr. Seward and under the influence of Dracula, he spends his time consuming flies in the hope of obtaining their life-force for himself, which transitions into a scheme to feed the flies to spiders, to feed the spiders to birds, and finally feed the birds to a cat, which he was denied, so he consumed the birds himself. Andrew's body movements, facial expressions, make-up, and hair-do all blended nicely for a provocatively entertaining as well as psychotically whimsical depiction.

The Flowertown Players presentation of the iconic "Dracula" will keep your interest from the moment the lights darken to the encore. Congratulations to the cast and crew for another successful opening night. To purchase tickets for remaining performances running to November 9th, go to "Dracula" or call (843) 875-9251.


Anonymous said...

I myself thought the play was ho hum, there was no flow in between scenes. Actors were overacting and play was sorely missing something. Normally I would have to say the theater usually delivers with quality and for this show I was sorely misled.

Rick Dunbar said...

Thank you for your view point and comments Anonymous. The "Dracula" play is logistically challenging as is the necessary special effects. Being a small, local theater, funds available for such things are quite limited. For that reason, I personally factor that into my expectations and cut them some slack. I have been behind the scenes and seen the hard work and sacrifice of time our local actors pour into these efforts. I attended the 11:30 showing. Maybe, people were expecting more blood and guts.

Anonymous said...

I agree, they usually deliver but this one was lacking.

Mike D. said...

I completely agree with anonymous's comment. I've been going to shows at Flowertown for some time now and have grown to see a certain quality the Flowertown has brought to it's shows. Unfortunately that quality just wasn't there the night I saw the show. I also understand where Rick is coming from with his response, but I believe this time around he is wrong. I was also at the 11:30 production of the so called "blood, guts and gore" event. From what I there wasn't any if not extra blood or guts that night, besides what was sprayed on the wall during the first 30 minutes of the almost 3 hour show. I feel that Rick must have seen a different production because the show was horrible from the get go. The sets were noticeably unfinished which detracted from the show a lot. The acting was awful from all the leads, except for the guy who played Renfield. Lighting was sub par. I had a hard time even to follow the story, which the way the script was written was bad. the scenes were disjointed and could have used some revisions and cuts to make it flow better and shorter. Dracula was the second show of this season on the heels of Hairspray and I'm sorry that this show has floundered in Hairspray's shadow and of productions of high quality I've come to expect with Flowertown. Now knowing that this show was directed by the Artistic Director, JC, I would feel incredibly embarrassed as and Artistic Director of Flowertown to have my name even connected to this show. I'm sorry but being a small theatre as you said, Fowertown has a quality that people have come to expect. Dracula wasn't up to that quality and that this "fluff" review doesn't do the show justice and I am sorry.

Anonymous said...

The first part came out as very segmented, the scenes were not properly melted together. Actors were too much in and out, something that could have been avoided by freezing characters on the stage and playing with the lights to hide them or bring the back. Act 2 had more cohesion and continuity. The problem with Act 2 though was the long break between the acts. It was hard to reconnect, given the slow development of act 2, and the late hour did not help (I have seen the 11:30 show). It also made me think of a soap opera: you do not see Dracula for the entire episode, then you get to finally see him, and the episode ends abruptly... the rest is coming up in the next episode.

The blood was not very obvious to the spectators at all times. Even Lucy, who had blood all over after the show did not come up that way, maybe because of the lighting. When Quincy dies, he turns to show that there is blood on him; it was well acted that is why it was understood, but I did not see the blood on his shirt until the curtain call.

Some scenes came out as too fake, like the sailors fighting. Most transitions between scenes looked like there were just carelessly thrown in. The final fight scene was decent.

Renfield did a tremendous job, he was by far the best and better developed character. He is probably the only truly professional actor that I have seen on the stage that evening.

Looking at the other actors, Van Helsing came out as reciting lines with no or very little acting or interpretation. It was very clear that he was not into his character. Holmewood was trying but came out as goofy. Jonathan Harker was also trying, but did not shine; he seems to be very young, so maybe he needs more time to refine his craft. Lucy and Mina did a fair job. Everybody except Renfield had sparks of good acting but they were very inconsistent.

Dracula was inconsistent too. He came out as someone trying too hard. Bottom line, compared with Remfield everybody else came up in a huge disadvantage. Dracula was the one that Renfield had eclipsed the most.

Rick Dunbar said...

Mike D--brutally honest. I tend to look for positives in everything, even in dissatisfaction and if you compare Dracula(a horror drama) with Hairspray(a musical)that is probably what you will have. Its tough going from places in Transylvania to places in England all in one set and these are local actors not professionals. That being said, I agree a certain level of quality should still be expected. At least, you could have said the costumes were good. Anonymous--at least you saw some positives. Agree--there is room for improvement. They have a week to step it up before the next shows.

Anonymous said...

The script itself is not the actors' friend in this play. While we can all acknowledge that it would be hard to boil down the essence of Stoker's famous book into a play, even just a little bit of background or inner dialogue in the minds of the key players would have made us care for them more.

Because we didn't get that, we really don't care so much about those who die, the plight of the two young couples, or really anyone but Renfield. I don't ascribe the blame for this to the young cast, who had to go with what they're given. I think a better script would have brought out their best emotions.

Frequent theatre patron said...

Any type of theatre has its advatanges and disadvantages and each production comes with it's difference set of challenges. As for Dracula, a show that takes place in various settings, over a longer time period, Flowertown used their smaller space pretty uniquely. As for "freezing characters on stage and playing with the lights to hide them and bring them back" is not possible on a stage sized at Flowertown's size. Anyone who has seen or been a part of a theatrical production knows each space is different. With a stage that is standard proscenium Flowertown could have easily zoned each setting and created defined spaces for different scenes. Since Flowertown has a smaller stage this specific zoning is not possible- especially when having 8 different scenes on a non moving set. For anyone who has worked on a production knows that doing one show in an evening can be exhausting and I could not imagine how tired these actors were after (at least) a week of tech and then doing two 3 hour shows back to back.

Most of the main roles were extremely difficult for any seasoned actor, community or not, and I think each character brought a bit of themselves on stage with them. As for the character development, Renfield had it from the start but no one seems to notice the development of Mina from sweet and innocent to harsh and cold. Mina went from one level to the next within seconds of each other as the scenes called for. Lucy was the sexual temptress that we all expected her to be, corset and all.

Even if one feels that some actors were subpar they are there to do what they love and they enjoy every second of it (for the most part). I'm sure after a week of rest and relaxation they will come Thursday with more energy and dedication to their art.

Theatre is objective and any artist can appreciate any other artist's or theatre goers opinion, but that is all that they are, opinions.

Everybody's a critic.

Heather Pallay | Theater Administrator for The Flowertown Players said...

Due to technical difficulties the vision for our 11:30 Blood, Guts & Gore Performance was not realized. We thank you for coming out to support us and have resolved the technical issues. We invite the 11:30 attendees to return to see tomorrow’s show, with all the extra gore included, on us. Please contact the box office to be added to the attendance list.

Anonymous said...

November 7th's show was wonderful! One tends to wonder if those stating all the negative comments are perhaps a bit amiss in their statements.
The production of Dracula is an extremely hard show to pull off to the perfection that it appears some feel should have been presented comparing a "local" theater, with limited stage to ? I'm not sure.
I thought the cast, that gave of their own time, did a wonderful job. Reinfiel did shine but many others did as well, Mina, Lucy both played their parts as expected and accomplished this with the grace and moxy as was expected from each.
Thank you to all of the cast for their fine performance and dedication to bringing ARTS to our small town of Summerville and to Rick for allowing all to share their thoughts both negative and positive. Great job to the Cast and Crew of Dracula. I for one enjoyed the show.

David Goodman said...

Vacation Rick I'm doing a project on the life of a Summervillian during the time of early cinema (1900-1940). However, I.m having trouble finding valuable information. Would you know any further information on the theaters in the area, including the Arcade theater? Like the cost of entrance and the reaction of important films (Birth of a Nation)? I'm also interested with the social aspect of the Summerville community. What was the working class doing for amusement? What was it like to be an Africa-American during this time? Did they go to the movies? Thank you.

Rick Dunbar said...

David Goodman, I wrote an article about Summerville theater. There was a black theater in Summerville. It was located where the Saints Cyril and Methodius Orthodox Church on Hutchinson Square is now. Here is the link to my article: