Count Dracula rises in blood-curdling new adaption

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By Bob Evans

October marches on with the end of the annual Renaissance Festival and a step toward Halloween–a time for favorite gothic tales of terror, ghosts, goblins, bats, witches, and, of course, vampires.

What could be more fitting for Halloween than a live theatrical encounter with the epitome of all vampires, Count Dracula? Well, Kansas City Actors Theatre opens a freshly crafted live performance of “Dracula” for a short run in Spencer Theatre on the UMKC campus just in time to send some thrills, chills, and laughs for the much anticipated holiday. With a cast mostly comprised of UMKC students and anchored by well-known KC actor, Kip Niven, the Count returns to the stage in a new adaptation that offers some major twists and turns to the Bram Stoker novel of the same name.

“Sensuous. Seductive. Sinister. Kansas City Actors Theatre presents its first-ever original production in this fresh adaptation, commissioned by Kansas City Actors Theatre, of Bram Stoker’s gothic classic, “Dracula,’” the KCAT website posts. “Produced in partnership with UMKC Theatre, this classic tale of obsession and desire arrives just in time for the Halloween season. Directed by John Rensenhouse after his record-breaking KCAT production of Agatha Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None” last season, ‘Dracula’ promises wickedly delicious fun, thrills, theatrical magic and intense performances.”

“Dracula,” the new version by Mitch Brian runs Oct. 12-21 on the UMKC campus. Still in preview and undergoing fine tuning, the new script offers some radical changes to the 1930s stage and screen version starring the legendary Bela Lugosi who will always be remembered for his most famous villain. Some changes make sense; others remain questionable.

Renfield, in this version, remains a live blood-eater but is now a woman hell-bent on the idea of being Dracula’s bride and cohort in blood-sucking. That connection evolves well and pits Renfield against the character of Mina Harker and gives a purpose to the new ending. The connection of Dr. Seward, Renfield’s doctor/keeper and Lucy (Dracula’s first victim) never develops. That character goes no where as do most of the characters in this version. They are not given enough lines or changes to develop memorable characters. But, with this being the first mounting of this new script, UMKC actors get to create a character and try to craft and fine-tune. The problem lies in the script that does not give the characters much to do or show any change.

Another change involved Dracula’s demise. But suffice it to say the last 10 minutes of the play move quickly and stray from the original novel. Shocking also were several lines in the play that included vulgarities that ring as sour an off-key note. They just seemed out of place and will probably disappear by official opening.

The gothic setting remains dark and dreary, so appropriate to the last two weeks in Kansas City. Still, the efforts of the cast make this play a fun experience. The cast is: Josh LeBrun, Kip Niven, Khalif Gillett, Emilie Karas, Chelsea Kinser, Jason Francescon, Yetunde Felix-Ukwu, Freddy Acevedo, Marianne McKenzie, Lauren Moore & Dayton Hollis.

Because the piece does not have a central character, the actors do not have the chance to develop deep characterizations. Even the lead character, Dracula, only appears in a few brief scenes and speaks very few lines. One would think that a play entitled “Dracula” would be predominately about the monster. Also, the character of Jonathan Harker, the story teller of the original novel barely appears in this version and then just in Act II, only to be killed almost immediately–and he’s the narrator of the novel and gives the insight into the Count’s evil. The lines are divided so each actor adds to the piece to tell the story, but not one character carries the load. Kip Niven stands out as the vampire-slayer and Josh LeBrun provides a creepy, sexy blood-sucker.

Sound was a problem during a preview, and several patrons at intermission mentioned that they could not understand or hear the actors. That’s a technical situation that can be addressed. The lighting was very appropriate to the piece as were most costumes. The lighting allowed the different scenes to identify changes in locations to assist the audience understanding.

“Dracula” is fun and entertaining to see. The play evokes the spookiness of the film and could develop into a Halloween offering for other theatre companies to mount each October. For tickets, call the Central Ticket Office at 816-235-6222 to purchase tickets or exchange dates. Ticket were general admission, so go early for best locations.

Tags: KCAT, Kansas City Actors Theatre, UMKC, Spencer Theatre, Dracula, Kansas City Theater, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment

Images courtesy of KCAT, KCAT & UMKC Theatre, Brian Paulette/KCAT/UMKC Theatre, Bob Evans and Bob Evans | KC Applauds

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