The Underground theater entered the October country as “Dracula” crept out of his crypt to creep out Thursday’s opening night audience.
Steven Dietz’s adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel avoids the weirdness afflicting most recent versions of the Count (Dracula is really Judas. What?!), to get back to the basics and remind us why “Dracula” is the classic Gothic horror story.
We wonder which cinematic Dracula will be Luke Moravec’s touchstone as the Count. Lugosi? Lee? Langella? In the Transylvania scenes, Moravec is delightfully channeling Max Schreck’s Count Orlok from “Nosferatu,” taking full advantages of those wicked long fingernails.
Afterward, as the revitalized Count, Moravec carves out his own version of Dracula, adding chills to his simple whispered command: “Do what I think.”
As the duo of damsels in distress, Haley Methner’s Lucy is sense to the sensibility of Shayna Schafter’s Mina, each blissfully unaware sensuality is but a bite in the night away.
Methner avoids suggesting Lucy has a bad girl hiding just below the surface. Her best moments were with her back to the audience, enthralled by what was calling to her beyond the bedroom window.
Schafter’s characters always have such an inherent sweetness to them, it was great to see her Mina get to some serious steel underneath.
As Renfield, Jonathan Manchester is the play’s madman chorus, switching from advancing the plot via his psychic connection with his master to waxing philosophically on life and other subjects. Renfield provides what passes for comic relief in the play, but as the evening progresses, he beats the desire to laugh at him out of the audience.
Most of Lucy’s suitors are eliminated, leaving only Stuart Gordon’s stalwart Dr. Seward for eminently practical reasons: he conveniently owns an asylum and plays the skeptical Scully to the beliefs beyond belief of Jordan Curtis’s vampire hunting Van Helsing.
As Jonathan Harker, Ted Webster does a nice job of becoming an absolute wreck by intermission courtesy of Dracula and his vampire brides.
When you read in his director’s biography that Justin Peck studied film in college, the appeal of Dietz’s script becomes patently obvious. It is filled with music cues and sound effects, offers more violins than violence (until suddenly, there is both), and values a good scream in the dark.
There is also a theatrical version of American montage, with three traumatic nights playing out on the three levels of Hannah Baldus’ set. The special effects are simple but effective, avoiding showers of blood because the horror here gets to the mind through the ears more than the eyes.
With one early exception, I really liked the costumes in this play. I did wish that the lighting design could have put more of the bedroom into shadow during the “bloofer lady” scene, which for me is the play’s showcase moment.
Finally, it is not often that you see a scene upstaged by a prop, but that happens when this “Dracula” embraces the deadliest mistake in Stoker’s novel: that back then, anybody could donate their blood to anybody else (What?!).
Lawrance Bernabo is an arts reviewer for the News Tribune. Or, as Bram Stoker would say, a low and base theater critic.
If you go
Where: The Underground, 506 W. Michigan St.
When: 7:30 Thursday-Saturday until Oct. 19