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Theater Review: Dracula at the University of Oklahoma

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I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula in the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of high school. The book scared me so much that I kept it in the closet of another room, closed the door, locked my own door, and slept with a Bible under my pillow.

Dracula was a terrifying book but it became one of my favorites because of its captivating plot and compelling characters. I jumped at the opportunity to see a production of it here at the University of Oklahoma.

On Sunday, September 25, I went to see the University Theatre School of Drama perform Dracula. William McNulty, who adapted the play from the novel, had an enormous task ahead of him, because the story is lengthy and complex. The novel is told entirely by letters and journal accounts, in Transylvania and England, through the perspective of multiple characters.

The play made extensive use of flashback to provide background. Characters that had been previously attacked by Dracula drank a “special Chinese formula” that helped them to relive their experience as they search for clues to defeat the vampire. At the beginning, flashback was used through a narrator, in a scene where mental inmates at an asylum watched a terrible storm. This opening was very effective, and the inmates made shadows on the wall to describe the events they were watching—but their screams and cries made some of the narration hard to hear.

The acting was superb. Director Tom Huston Orr prepared his actors very well. Brad Brockman played a convincing Dracula, with a believable Transylvanian accent, dark humor, and charm. Abram van Helsing was one of my favorite characters from the book, and Madison Niederhauser played the wise, brave old professor to perfection. I was surprised to read that he was an undergraduate student because his costume was so convincing.

Brooks Meyer and Tyler Brodess did great as Dr. Thomas Seward and Jonathan Harker respectively. Stella Highfill was excellent as Lucy Westphal, playing a sweet love interest with Harker and a tortured soul under Dracula’s influence. Lucy’s friend, Mina Grant, was Seward’s love interest, but she was killed by Dracula at the start of the play. Laurel Sein played the unfortunate Mina, who spent most of the play as an undead vampire. Sein acted her part frighteningly well.

Niederhauser, Meyer, Brodess, and Highfill were engaging and sympathetic as their characters fought desperately against the undying Dracula. Kourtney Kae and Samuel D. Boeck, who played the servant roles of Margaret Sullivan and Norbert Briggs respectively, were excellent as minor characters. They provided an interesting love subplot, as well as their own doses of humor and horror.

One of the best performances of the play belonged to Kevin Percival, who played Robert Renfield, the inmate who becomes Dracula’s unwilling spy. Reinfield has a far less important role in the novel than he did in the play, but the changes to his character were very effective. Percival gave a compelling performance as the inmate whose insane antics, humorous dialogue, and treachery advanced the plot.

The stage tricks and special effects were amazing. Trapdoors, smoke, and coffin lids made characters disappear—or switch with each other—in the blink of an eye. Gunshots and fire on the characters themselves were convincing. The costumes for all were well done, and Dracula’s monster form was downright terrifying.

Dracula met my expectations for the “scare factor.” I don’t consider myself easily startled, but I jumped out of my seat at least twice. The play also provided the expected sexual tensions and overtones of horror-adventure, because the vampire’s bite is embroiled in feverish lust and desire.

This is not a play for children. I was concerned for a little boy I saw standing by the theater door during one scene of seduction and terror, because he was certainly not ready for such content.

However, as an adult tale of horror, adventure, and eternal stakes, Dracula was worth the two hours and 14 dollars that I spent to see it. The acting was superb. The costumes, lighting, sound effects, and stage effects alternately pleased and terrified my senses. Dracula was coherent and compelling. This adaptation from the novel to the stage was a definite success.

Dracula runs through Oct. 2.

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