Lawrence Toppman

Theatre Charlotte produces a ‘Dracula’ you can count on

Leah Wiseman (Lucy) and Tony Wright (Dracula) share a perversely intimate moment in Theatre Charlotte’s “Dracula.”
Leah Wiseman (Lucy) and Tony Wright (Dracula) share a perversely intimate moment in Theatre Charlotte’s “Dracula.” Diana Wakefield

You can interpret Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” as anything from a reflection on his childhood – he was bedridden with an unexplained disease until he was 7 – to an allegorical indictment of bloodsucking English rulers who oppressed Ireland. (The Irish author was born in 1847 during the Great Famine, which fueled calls for independence.)

Any analysis will surely have much to do with Victorian attitudes toward love and suppressed sexual desires. But if you’re looking for an alternate depiction of the legend, Steven Dietz is not your man.

His adaptation of the 1897 novel, ably directed by Dave Blamy at Theatre Charlotte, sticks to tradition. The Count bamboozles an English solicitor into finding him an abbey in England, where he can sail (in a coffin, of course) to find fresh blood.

There he exerts power over two young women, until the men who have a stake in their lives put one in his heart. The usual mythology about mirrors, lack of a shadow, garlic and rosaries come into play, along with fresh mumbo-jumbo about holy bread and a rose that can keep a vampire from lifting his coffin lid.

Only one character has been changed: Poor Renfield, who gobbles bugs and birds in the insane asylum, begins the play as an upper-crust narrator needed for one great sight gag. (Dan Brunson makes a pitiably articulate madman.)

You’ll notice two things quickly. First, set and lighting designer Chris Timmons has done remarkable things with a stage and budget that crimp him. We can never see Dracula take wing, change into a beast or exert his super-strength. Instead, the show relies on strobes, flashes of light, sound effects (balanced around the auditorium) and sudden appearances from unlikely places to make its effects.

Second, the title character doesn’t dominate the play. Tony Wright uses his insinuating voice and slender body to create a memorable character, but Dracula doesn’t get a lot of time onstage. (Absence makes us anticipate his next appearance.)

We spent most of our time with dogged vampire hunter Van Helsing (Tom Scott in a quietly authoritative performance), naive Jonathan Harker (Jay Masanotti, effective in his first stage appearance) and gullible Dr. Seward (intense Tim Hager).

Third, the women manage to be both upright and salacious, sometimes at the same time. That usually creates a comic effect, but Leah Wiseman’s Lucy and Caryn Crye’s Mina swing between those behavioral poles easily.

Fourth, there is a comic effect from time to time, right down to the last flailings of Drac’s gloved hands in his final resting place. I imagine Dietz wanted this; I didn’t, because the play feels a shade long. But when this “Dracula” sticks to creepy horror, it fulfills its mission.

Toppman: 704-358-5232

‘Dracula’

When: Through Nov. 15 at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Theatre Charlotte, 500 Queens Road.

Running time: 140 minutes.

Tickets: $12-27.

Details: 704-376-3777; theatrecharlotte.org.

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