Saturday , May 25 2024

Theater Reviews: ‘Mina’ and ‘Here, Between, and Beyond’ at FRIGID New York’s Days of the Dead Festival

Mina – A Young Woman Confronts an Old Vampire

Halloween means two things to me. One: finding a distant safe place to park my car, since we live just off the path of the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade. Two: seeing, if I can, a theater production with a scary edge. FRIGID New York’s Days of the Dead Festival here in NYC seemed a perfect opportunity to achieve the second goal.

So on one long, dark, spooky Monday night I saw two festival selections: Mina, a gripping retelling of Dracula from the point of view of one of the Bram Stoker novel’s female characters; and Here, Between, and Beyond, a collection of short one-acts on macabre themes, many of them played for laughs.

In case you’ve forgotten your Stoker (and if you’ve never read Dracula, sink your teeth into a copy right now): Mina is the fiancée and then the wife of Jonathan Harker, the young lawyer whose business trip to Count Dracula’s Transylvania castle launches the story. The novel is told via characters’ letters and journal entries, including Mina’s; so is Richard Width’s adaptation.

Width’s conceit is that Mina, having collected these sources, is reading excerpts, along with her own recollections, to a lecture audience. Reilly Hacker takes on this solo challenge and comes through with flying colors – mostly blood-red, of course.

In spinning her tale, Hacker-as-Mina becomes a mesmerizing shape-shifter. She does the voices of just about all the major characters, save the Count himself. The through-line is Mina’s own thoughts and feelings: terror of the undead, curiosity about then-new developments in medicine, compassion for her victimized friend Lucy, determination. She even gives us a laugh now and then. It’s a bravura performance.

To fit the whole story into one hour, Karen Eterovich directs the action at a zippy pace. This works well for much of the duration: Hacker’s breakneck storytelling conveys a sense of desperation that compels attention. After a while, though, so much action is taking place that the initial intensity bleeds away. The vivid pictures Mina creates blur into the feeling of a 33-1/3 record album played at 45 (for those of you who remember the original days of vinyl), or a podcast played at double speed. I would have been happy to see this production spread out over 80 or 90 minutes.

That might present an even greater challenge for the performer, of course. It might also give her more chance to breathe. There’s a lot of story in Dracula. While Width’s script does a remarkable job of compressing it, this telling deserves to play out in its full epistolary glory.

That said, Reilly Hacker’s sizzling performance deserves to be experienced – for it is an experience – just as it is.

Mina, from the First Flight Theatre Company, has two more performances at the Days of the Dead Festival.

Here, Between, and Beyond – and All Over the Place

Two plays stand out in this Rising Sun presentation of five short pieces. Six, if you count the framing emcee material, as the program does.

The best of Here, Between, and Beyond, by rather a long shot, is Blithe Séance, an AIDS-era exploration by Eugene Grygo of love, death, and the occult. It’s the year 2000, and flamboyant New Orleans psychic Jasper visits the Boston home of Theo with Tarot cards and medium skills in hand. Theo seeks some kind of closure about his unrequited love for his friend and roommate Rupert, who died of AIDS three years before.

Theo gets almost more than he bargained for, as Rupert’s ghost appears, though visible only to Jasper. Rupert mimes messages for the medium to convey verbally to Theo. These bits are touching, funny, and smartly played. Together, the campy medium, the earnest client, and the silent ghost create an engrossing atmosphere where the dead can help the living move on with their lives – and in a much more benign way than a vampire like Dracula.

Luis Feliciano, who plays the ghost, also appears in the mini-play that opens the evening. In Now You See It, Now You Don’t, a magician with occult powers appears to a boy who’s been left on his own with no food in the throes of the Dust Bowl. Winning the boy over with a piece of bread and a shiny, vanishing ball, the magician goes on to execute a more dastardly disappearance. What it all means isn’t clear, but the actor who plays the boy delivers a searing performance.

Stiff Competition

Another play to note here is one that fails to fully deliver on an excellent idea. Memento Mori is about the macabre practice of posing corpses in lifelike positions for memorial photographs. The play’s a hoot, but also a narrative jumble. It’s got an unusual premise and props, and gallows humor that could go deeper. With more character development and polishing it could be something good.

Something else that could use a polish is my car. But that’ll never happen. Maybe when I flee the neighborhood in the face of Halloween and that frightful parade, we’ll get rained on again and the old car will at least look clean for a day or two.

Vamp yourself down to New York City’s East Village for the Days of the Dead Festival, which runs through November 2.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Music, where he covers classical music (old and new) and other genres, and Culture, where he reviews NYC theater. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at where he is on a mission to visit every park in New York City. He has also been a part-time working musician, including as lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado.

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