Last night I had the pleasure of seeing the Charleston Alley Theatre’s production of the stage adaptation of Bram Stoker’s famous Dracula. The Charleston Alley Theatre, or CAT is a nonprofit organization that puts on four or five productions a year. They play in a few different venues, but their home is the CAT on Monroe Avenue in Charleston. It’s a small, intimate space that seats about 50 depending on the stage setup. They don’t even have a front door. You enter the theatre through a side door in an alley. Gaudy rope lights illuminate the way to the little entrance. It’s an incredibly charming experience. You enter the theatre and immediately witness all the hard work put into the production, from the stage to the themed decorations in the lobby. It’s the perfect place for art.
The CAT is in their 25th season, their current show is is a stage adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula written by Steven Dietz and Directed by Tony Cox and Diana Allen. The cast is twelve strong and includes most of the characters from the book. Dracula captivates from the first scene when we see a man in a slick suit being waited on by someone who looks like a butler. He sits, tastes the wine and begins his monologue. I was thoroughly relieved from the beginning that character’s Transylvanian was well executed. Always a good sign, accents are tough to do and even easier to botch. Things get odd quickly and we realize that he is the Renfield (Craig Banyai), mad servant of Dracula, living out some sort of fantasy and we’re off. The story begins.
The book Dracula is told from many different perspectives and the cast and tech crew do quite the job, through creative lighting and dialogue, to convey a cohesive sense of time and distance among the characters in different parts of the world. A great example is a dialogue between the characters Mina (Amanda Wolf) and Jonathan Harker (Kent Wolf). Mina is safe back in England, yet she seems to talk to Jonathan, who is in Transylvania. We see different parts of the stage light up and then darken as we catch glimpses of the character’s situations unfolding. Mina becomes ever worried about Jonathan and he becomes ever more insane. The effect is heightened by the L-shapped seating arrangement around the stage. It really felt like the characters were worlds away. Well executed dialogue was a constant in the show. I could really feel the tensions between Lucy (Marie Jozwiak) and Dr. Seward (Demetrius Johnson), and the clashing of VanHelsing (Duke Bagger) and Dracula (Michael Salem).
As I mentioned earlier, the CAT is an intimate venue. Facial expressions are vivid, screams chill you to the core. It’s important to note that this play is scary. It has its share of jump-scares made very intense by frequent tension building in the dialogue. I was on the edge of my seat for most it. Nothing will prepare you for the mad shouts and rantings from Banyai’s portrayal of Renfield. Additionally, Banyai was not afraid to get very close to the audience adding to the immersion of the performance. Let’s not forget the man himself Dracula, played by Michael Salem. Salem’s portrayal of the iconic character can best be described as “cool.” Dracula is refined, he never says bleh, bleh, bleh and the only time he loses it is the last time. He is the perfect villain for the excitable Abraham VanHelsing, played by Duke Bagger. The two are locked in a battle of wits for most of the show and it works well. Calm Dracula always stays one step ahead of the animated and enthusiastic VanHelsing, or does he? The two female leads in the show Lucy, played by Marie Jozwiak, and Mina, played by Amanda Wolf, form the perfect contrast of corruption versus righteousness. Jozwiak’s performance as Lucy will haunt me. Wolf’s portrayal of Mina inspires us to fight out own inner demons until the bitter end.
Overall, the cast and crew of Dracula put on a stellar show that will keep you riveted to edge of your seat from the opening monologue to the curtain call. There were a few technical problems, but the cast did a fantastic job playing them off and moving on with the show. My only regret is that I didn’t see it sooner . If you get a chance, there is one last show this Monday the 26th at 7:30. Go see it and support a vibrant local arts scene! Dracula will put you into the perfect mood for Halloween next weekend. Congratulations to the cast and crew! The CAT’s next show is called Christmas Shorts and hits the stage in December.