Dracula is a Bloody Delight @ Mercury Theater

3.5 stars out of 4

 

I’m not usually a fan of blood and gore, but I was completely sucked in by The Hypocrites’ new production of Dracula at the Mercury Theater. The Hypocrites are known for taking on boldly sized projects (the fantastic twelve-hour marathon All Our Tragic, the upcoming four-hour Aristophanesathon), and they pull off this comparatively bite-sized play with aplomb.

Based on Bram Stoker’s classic novel, Dracula tells the story of the vampire count (the awesomely talented Breon Arzell) who seeks to move from Translyvania to England to find new victims and spread the curse of the undead. In this new adaptation, directed by Sean Graney from an original script by Timothy L. Griffin, we get to know better the women and men who fear and fight him. Young fiancées Jonathan and Mina (Maurice Demus and Aurora Real de Asusa), are an aspiring businessman and a dedicated schoolteacher.  Plagued by visions and dreams, Lucy (Janelle Villas) is courted by vampire researcher Dr. Van Helsing (Rob McLean) and insane asylum director Jack Seward (John Taflan). Inmate Renfield (Erin Barlow) can feel Dracula’s thoughts and is tortured by it. Each of these characters have witty exchanges and one-line zingers as they calculate their defense to Dracula’s aggression. The script has a refreshingly feminist reflection of our modern times; none of these female characters need any man to save them. Each character is an independent agent living their own life, yet together they negotiate changing social expectations of work and love.

 

What allows this material to excel is that it offers a meditation on real issues (fear of foreigners, anyone?) without taking itself too seriously in the process. The Hypocrites’ fun, campy tone allows you to enjoy the gallons of stage blood and over-the-top fight choreography without once rolling your eyes.  When creepy “vampire nuns” attack, you totally buy in. The excellent staging keeps you alert—never knowing from which direction an assailant may pop out. The fabulous costumes by Samantha Jones hint at eras past while looking totally modern at the same time. The versatile set by John Musial takes us to Dracula’s castle, Mina’s apartment, and Lucy’s asylum. The only part of this show I regretted was its heavy-handed ending that came out of left field.

 

Through November 5. The Mercury Theater is at 3745 N. Southport; call 773.325.1700 or visit www.MercuryTheaterChicago.com.