Below l-r: Kate Jopson, Eugene Brancoveanu, Taylor Jones, Emma Goldin as the Vampire Vixens and Count Dracula.

Above: Michael Barrett Austin as the insane Renfield in Center Rep's Dracula.

DRACULA. Book by: John Balderston & Hamilton Deane. Direction by: Michael Butler. Center REPertory Company 1601 Civic Drive in downtown Walnut Creek. www.CenterREP.org or call 925.943.SHOW (7469). October 22 – November 20, 2010


There are seasonal stage adaptations at Christmas of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and it seems only fair that at Halloween Dracula should come out of the woodwork/coffin. He does just that as he treads the boards in Center Rep’s mesmerizing staging of John Balderston and Hamilton Deane’s stage adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel directed in ghoulish high camp by the always-inventive Michael Butler.

Don’t expect to see the spine-chilling shenanigans of the movie Dracula starring Frank Langella and Laurence Olivier as his nemesis Prof. Van Helsing because Butler has elected to perform this staging with tongue-in-cheek. If you saw Count Dracula played by Frank Langella who was nominated for a Tony in the 1977 Broadway production strut his stuff on a Edward Gorey’s award winning white and black set with exceptional special effects you might have reservations about attending Center Rep’s offering. Forget it if you did, as I did, and get thee hence for a performance that you can sink your teeth in, but you will have to compete with Count Dracula.

Butler is aided and abetted by production staffs that are the best in the Bay area. The amazing multi-area nonsensical creepy, intimidating set is perfect for a horror story. Scenic designer Kim A Tolan, I’m sure after consultation with Butler, has enough entrance and exit points that would be fit for two or three French farces, and they are all used. Lighting, Kurt Landisman,and Cliff Caruthers, lighting and sound designers have a field day with special effects. Properties artisan Seren Helday deserves individual accolade for devising a method to create blood letting without spilling a drop.

Eugene Brancoveanu, a 2005-2006 San Francisco Opera Center Adler Fellow who “is admired for his virile baritone voice and distinguished stage presence” invests the role with the right amount of Gothic panache. Panache? Did I mention that in this version of Dracula he is a playboy returning from a 500-year state of undead to woo an English lassie Minna Murray (Kendra Lee Oberhauser) who is sort of engaged to ineffectual Jonathan Harker (Thomas Gorreboeck) who was unsuspectingly responsible for getting the evil Count to Whitby, England in the 1800s.

When Dracula fails to suck the blood from Minna, he goes for second best and does the pusillanimous deed to her best friend Lucy Westenra (Madeline H. D. Brown) and strange things begin to happen in Whitby. The ladies just happen to staying in the living quarters of Dr. Seward (Michael Wiles) who runs an insane asylum. Locked up in that asylum is Renfield who is forever escaping often performing dastardly deeds for Count Dracula.

.Just for the record, Eugene Brancoveanu is a solid believable Count Dracula but it is Michael Barret Austin as Renfield, the insane fly eater who walks on sheer walls, wins the audience’s approbation. Robert Sicular as Prof. Van Helsing , in mutton-chop sideburns and tweed jacket (fine costumes by Victoria Livinston-Hall) is sort of a deus-ex-machina as he leads the determined band armed with garlic, crosses and a wooden stack for the heart eventually putting Dracula to permanent sleep of the real dead.

The vampire vixens (Emma Goldin, Taylor Jones, Kate Jopson) that spring from a trap door down stage center are great and ready for trick or treating on Halloween Night.Special effects usurp the admiration normally garnered by the acting however, the broad acting styles are perfect for a show that is a admixture of high camp and frightening consequences. The ultimate scene of Minna’s self-sacrifice is a brilliant and another salute to the special effects. Don’t miss this show. Running time about 2 hours with intermission.

Kedar K Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com