Count Dracula is one of the most enduring monsters in literature, which either is ironic or makes perfect sense, considering his immortality. Bram Stoker's vicious yet refined vampire nobleman has weathered more than a century of rebirths and reimaginings—he's spurred more interpretations than any other classical monster (there are more than 200 films based just on his story).
He is the pop-culture darling of the ages, a supernatural villain we love to fear in all his many forms. He'll be breathed to life yet again when playwright Steven Dietz's adaptation of the Stoker tale (which is the most produced version for the stage, and which Dietz wrote in the mid-1990s in Seattle) is revived and revised specifically for ACT Theatre, which is producing the play through November 17.
But it's not all about the Count. In this Dracula, the focus shifts to Mina Murray Harker. Her character has always been ripe for a reckoning or a refresh, or both, and has enjoyed many alternate paths in modern retellings. She is the source of endless fascination, because she is an obvious heroine in Stoker's novel, pure of heart and mind, and yet she's just as much a casualty of Dracula's desires as her poor friend Lucy, even if Mina ultimately fares better.
No matter how many gender norms Stoker challenged, it was still the Victorian era. Mina could be given only so much agency. "But to simply make her a victim was super unsatisfying to all of us," director John Langs explained. "So Steven has done some reworking of the story, and she really comes to the forefront. The hunted becomes the hunter in this particular adaptation."
He describes it as a ritualistic retelling of the play that they're calling "the death of Dracula at the hands of Mina Murray." According to Langs, "Whenever we take on a classical work at ACT Theatre, we're trying to reframe it in the contemporary context."
In Dietz's Dracula, relevant themes are explored—like the costs of hiding your secret life from the people you love most and the way corruption takes root. But as Langs put it, they also want "to tell a good monster story about power in this day and age, as a great allegory for the fear that is being generated by certain parts of society that has us all very, very worried. It's been really satisfying to drive a stake into the heart of a monster every day, and we hope that our audience feels that macabre pleasure with us."
The actors are core ACT Theatre members, many of whom took part in a yearlong workshop, which means they are intimately familiar with the material and its changes. Among them are actors who've gotten glowing praise from our critics, including Khanh Doan as Mina, Brandon O'Neill as Dracula, and Basil Harris as Renfield. Langs said about Harris: "He has such a unique and off-center quality to him, that I thought him taking on that pivotal role was just a perfect get for us."
There will be a live cello player onstage throughout the evening, and, Langs said, "gallons of blood, tons of smoke, lots of choreography, singing, sharp teeth... Even in our, maybe, erudite pursuits, we haven't shied away from making it great entertainment."